McArthur: Review shows Crown Office “simply incapable” of handling FAIs

Following the publication today of a devastating independent review of Fatal Accident Inquiries (FAIs), Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP has branded the Crown Office “simply incapable” of meeting the demands of FAIs.

The HM Chief Inspector of Prosecution’s review found that:

  • Three years on from the last thematic report, there has been a “lack of progress in many areas”.
  • FAIs are characterised by “lengthy intervals of unexplained delays” and “periods of inactivity” which “have the potential to devalue the purpose of the FAI.”
  • The time for completing mandatory FAIs has shown “little progress”. Despite increased resources for older investigations, there are still 20 that are over 3 years old.
  • Reasons for delays include overstretched workloads and inefficient collaboration with other agencies.
  • Delays adversely impact momentum of investigations, the wellbeing of those involved, public confidence, the quality of evidence and the resulting recommendations.
  • “The FAI should be the primary forum to explore the circumstances of the death, while it is fresh in the minds of all those involved, and not a vehicle to summarise outcomes of other reports.”

This review follows a Scottish Liberal Democrat investigation that found outstanding inquiries relating to two deaths eight years ago - almost 3000 days.

Families and next of kin, including those of the victims of the M9 crash in 2015, and the parents of Katie Allan who died in Polmont last year have spoken out about the distressing impact of delays. 

New statistics also show that of the 32 inquiries that ended in 2018/19, only 2 “general recommendations” were made and no follow ups were required.

Responding to the review, Liam McArthur commented:

“This review has shown once again that the current Fatal Accident Inquiry process is broken.

“FAIs suffer long periods where nothing whatsoever seems to happen. Investigations are still being swamped by bureaucracy and unsustainable workloads. It appears as though the Crown Office is simply incapable of keeping up or driving critical investigations forward.

“The people that should be at the centre of this process are being sidelined.

“There are serious structural barriers impeding progress. The Justice Secretary and Lord Advocate are failing in their public duties if they don’t consider all options for improvement – that means investigating whether these inquiries need to be removed from the Crown Office as is the case in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.”

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