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MSP seeks to bring in FAI reforms

2 August 2013

A proposed member's bill to overhaul the law relating to fatal accident inquiries in Scotland has been put out to public consultation by Labour MSP Patricia Ferguson.

Ms Ferguson wants to extend the Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths Inquiry (Scotland) Act 1976 to cover work-related deaths not resulting from accidents, such as deaths from industrial diseases and deaths resulting from exposure at work to certain substances; and to make the process of investigating deaths quicker and more transparent, referring appropriate cases to specialist sheriff courts, and giving the families of the deceased a more central role in the process.

Recommendations to reform the FAI system have already been made in a report by the former Lord President, Lord Cullen, published in 2009. The Scottish Government has accepted the recommendations and has said it will act on them during the present Parliament, but has not yet set out its intentions for legislation. Ms Ferguson says Lord Cullen's proposals would "represent a vast improvement", but wants reform to go further.

In her view, equal emphasis should be placed on identifying how the death occurred and ensuring that lessons are learned from it. It would be possible to have an inquiry only to consider what lessons are learned, and sheriffs would have power in some circumstances to impose criminal penalties for failing to act on recommendations.

Strict time limits would be introduced for the Lord Advocate to make a decision on whether to hold an inquiry, and then on having the inquiry take place; and in the nterests of transparency the Lord Advocate should produce written decisions on exercising his or her powers under the Act.

Famiiies of deceased persons would be given a say in where and how inquiries are conducted.

Ms Ferguson said: "Unfortunately I have witnessed first-hand the devastation caused to families following the death of a loved one by the woeful system we have in place to carry out a fatal accident inquiry.

"After suffering the trauma and heartache of losing a family member in sudden or unexplained circumstances, it surely should not be too much to ask that the process for investigating this death does not cause further agony and grief.

"As my consultation highlights, there are many families who have had to fight the system – sometimes for many years – just to be granted the right for an FAI to be heard. I hope that through this consultation, we will create the foundations for a new system which will address these serious issues and provide a mechanism which allows families to understand what happened, why it happened and feel reassured that provisions are being made to prevent it happening again to someone else."

Click here to access the consultation. The deadline for responses is 22 November 2013.

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