MSP seeks reform of Fatal Accident Inquiries


Patricia Ferguson MSP has launched a public consultation on a proposed Bill with the aim of modernising the investigation of sudden and accidental deaths in Scotland.

The current position

Under current legislation, fatal accident inquiries serve two functions:

to find out what happened; and
to ensure that lessons are learned.

Proposed Inquiries into Deaths (Scotland) Bill

In the introduction to the consultation, Ms Ferguson states that the aim of her proposed Bill is to ensure a greater emphasis on the lessons to be learned. The Bill provides for:

Extending the scope of FAIs to cover all work-related deaths. Currently, only deaths resulting from accidents at work are covered by legislation. Deaths from industrial diseases or deaths as a result of exposure at work to certain substances are not covered;
Recommendations of Sheriffs at the end of inquiries to be legally enforceable; and
Speeding up the process of investigating deaths.

What next?

Lord Cullen undertook a Review of the Fatal Accident Inquiry Legislation which was published in 2009. At the present point in time only some of Lord Cullen's recommendations have been incorporated, such as the Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit which was set up in 2010 to provide expertise and specialist advice for Procurators Fiscal from the very earliest stages of non-criminal deaths investigations.

The Scottish Government has, however, committed to bringing forward its own Bill to further implement the recommendations of Lord Cullen’s Review within the current parliament.

Ms Ferguson’s proposed Bill, including the provision for Sheriffs' recommendations being legally binding, would go further than the reforms proposed by the Cullen Review. However before her Members’ Bill can be introduced, the final proposals must secure the support of at least 18 other MSPs from two or more political parties. If introduced, a Members’ Bill then follows a three stage scrutiny process during which it may be amended or rejected outright. If it is passed at the end of the process it will then become an Act of Parliament.

The consultation period will run until 22 November 2013.