Responding to a question from Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP in the Chamber this afternoon, Minister for Community Safety Ash Denham conceded a review into the broken Fatal Accident Inquiry system was “required”.
A verbatim account of the exchange was as follows:
Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP said:
Does the Minister agree that the system that makes families wait years to find out the circumstances surrounding their loved ones deaths and asks them to make a financial contribution towards the process is broken? Is she aware of recent reports that the family of a victim of the M9 crash was sent a bill by the highways authority to replace the shrubs damaged at the side of the motorway, and would she agree that it’s time for an independent review of FAIs?
Minister for Community Safety, Ash Denham, replied:
I thank the member for raising that point, to which, I think it is very important to raise that. I would agree that a review is required.
So just to reiterate it is the role of the Scottish Legal Aid Board to make the determinations if legal aid funding is to be awarded, Scottish Ministers can’t overturn that decision. There isn’t flexibility for the board to decide to disapply or disregard the statutory requirements that operate to assess an applicant’s finances and any changes to this system can only be made through changes to primary legislation and that is why we plan to consult on a new legal aid bill. That will be a full consultation and it will be happening this year before summer recess. I will carefully consider this issue as part of that wider planning for the Scottish Legal Aid Bill and I would be happy to meet with any members who want to discuss this further and who want to contribute to that bill.
The Scottish Liberal Democrat conference in Hamilton voted in favour of an emergency motion calling for a full independent review of the Fatal Accident Inquiry system on Saturday 23rd February.
Speaking afterwards, Liam McArthur said:
“Last weekend Scottish Liberal Democrats called on the government to commission an independent review of the broken Fatal Accident Inquiry system. The Minister appears to have taken the first steps towards this today but a review needs to looks at so much more than grieving families being handed legal costs.
“The FAI system should be people-centred and ever mindful of the families involved. Our recent research revealed some families enduring waits of up to eight years to get information about how their relatives had died. In those circumstances they are being denied closure.
“A full independent review should examine the protracted timescales, structural barriers and lack of public confidence in the process. It should consider whether Scotland requires a system of checks and balances outwith the parameters of the COPFS, akin to the coroner systems that exist in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
“I look forward to the Minister clarifying the parameters and timescale of its scope.”