Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP has written to the Justice Secretary to call for three key changes which should be introduced when improving the current handling of deaths in custody and to take the government to task over its claim that “real progress” is being made.
An independent report published last year concluded that there needs to be an independent inquiry into every death in custody and warned that at present the fatal accident inquiry (FAI) system has “a lack of family engagement at every step of the journey.” The report called for investigations into deaths in custody to begin almost immediately after a death and be completed “within a matter of months.” In comparison, the FAI process currently used has significant delays before investigating a death.
Earlier this year, Scottish Liberal Democrat analysis revealed that the average time for a FAI to be completed was three years, with some inquiries remaining outstanding after almost a decade.
In his letter, Mr McArthur underlined the need to learn lessons from the failure of the current FAI system and called on Justice Secretary Keith Brown to implement three key components in the new system:
- A deadline for the commencement of reviews into custodial deaths
- A guarantee to families that they will receive necessary support when navigating legal proceedings
- A guarantee that these reforms will come into effect by the start of next year
Mr McArthur said:
"Families are facing long waits to discover what happened to loved ones who perished in tragic circumstances.
"I remain deeply concerned about the current state of the Fatal Accident Inquiry system presently tasked with examining deaths in custody, and am sceptical about the claim that “real progress” is being made in improving this process.
"Scottish Liberal Democrat research revealing that some inquiries are remaining outstanding after almost a decade and independent reports suggesting that the FAI system “works to normalise suffering and death in prison” indicate that there is an ongoing need for urgent reform.
"The government needs to commit to a deadline for kicking off an investigation into a death in custody. It also needs to ensure that legal aid will be provided for families and next of kin when investigations into custodial deaths take place."