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Lord Cullen to review fatal accident inquiries

7 March 2008

The legislation which has governed the operation of fatal accident inquiries (FAIs) in Scotland for more than 30 years is to be reviewed.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill and the Lord Advocate, Elish Angiolini have agreed that a review, to be carried out by the former Lord President, Lord Cullen of Whitekirk, should take place into the working of the Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths Inquiry (Scotland) Act 1976.

The review, which is expected to take around a year, will examine the operation of judicial inquiries into sudden, suspicious or unexplained deaths. It will consider whether the sheriff court is the right forum for such investigations and how FAIs interact with other inquiries such as those by the Health and Safety Executive.

Among the subjects expected to be considered during the review will be:

  • the framework of procedural rules for fatal accident inquiries;
  • the use of expert evidence;
  • the legal representation of bereaved families;
  • the status of recommendations made by a sheriff at the conclusion of a fatal accident inquiry;
  • inquiries into deaths in healthcare;
  • inquiries into deaths in legal custody;
  • consideration of the categories of mandatory and discretionary inquiries;
  • whether there should be inquiries into all Scots deaths abroad (where the body is returned to Scotland); and
  • the interaction with other forms of investigation.

Around 50-70 fatal accident inquiries are held each year.

Mr MacAskill said: "The legislation on fatal accident inquiries is now over 30 years old and the time is right for a review of how the system works in practice in the light of changes which have been made to other parts of the justice system.

"Concerns have been raised about it in recent years, particularly about delays in the system and how the implementation of sheriffs' recommendations is monitored. I expect the review to lead to improvements in the law and result in a more structured system for fatal accident inquiries.

"I look forward with interest to seeing the review's recommendations next year."