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Wait times for Fatal Accident Inquiries up a third

Waiting times for the results of Fatal Accident Inquiries have jumped by over a third since last year, information from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has revealed.

In the last year alone the average time taken to complete a Fatal Accident Inquiry has risen by more than eight months, from 691 days in 2019-20 to 939 days in 2020-21 – an increase of 36%

The details, which were obtained through a Freedom of Information request, show the full scale of the slowdown. In one example, an inquiry from June 2012 was still open after almost a decade.  

In 2020-21 only two Fatal Accident Inquiry were completed within 12 months, and it took more than five years to conclude five Fatal Accident Inquiries.   

Scottish Conservative Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Jamie Greene MSP, said:  “It is unacceptable that the families of victims should have to wait so long for closure while these inquiries move at a snail’s pace.

“Fatal Accident Inquiries must be conducted quickly, especially when there is cause for public concern. Nine years and counting is an outrageous length of time. 

“Just this week it was revealed that 90% of the FAIs for deaths in custody had no recommendations – meaning no lessons to prevent future deaths are being learnt.

“Strict deadlines for Fatal Accident Inquiries, like what the Scottish Conservatives have proposed, would ensure that victims’ families are not left waiting years on end for closure.

“The SNP Government must put victims first, and put in place the deadlines needed to fix this embarrassingly slow process.

Notes

There is a Fatal Accident Inquiry that has still not concluded after more than 9 years. One death occurred on 10 June 2012 and a Fatal Accident Inquiry has been lodged but has not concluded. This is despite the death occurring 9 years and two months ago. (COPFS, Freedom of information response R-01693-21, 5 August 2021, Attached).

 

The average time taken to complete an FAI has soared by more than 8 months in the last year. In 2019-20, the average time it took from date of death reported to evidence concluding from the FAI was 691 days. In 2020-21, this figure soared to 939 days – an increase of nearly 250 days in just one year. (COPFS, Freedom of information response R-01693-21, 5 August 2021, Attached).

 

In 2020-21 only two FAIs were completed in 12 months and it took more than 5 years to conclude 5 FAIs. In 2018-19, 6 FAIs were completed in 12 months and 8 were completed within 12 months in 2019-20. In 2020-21, only two FAIs were concluded within 12 months and the number of FAIs taking more than 5 years to conclude increased from 0 in 2018-19 to 5 in 2020-21. (COPFS, Freedom of information response R-01693-21, 5 August 2021, Attached).

 

There were no recommendations made in 9 out of 10 Fatal Accident Inquiries into deaths in custody. A study of almost 200 fatal accident inquiries into deaths in custody found the sheriff made no recommendation to improve practice in 90% of cases. Academics at Glasgow University looked at 196 deaths in prisons covering almost 15 years from 2005 to 2019. (BBC News, 15 September 2021, link).

 

The Fatal Accident Inquiries into the deaths of John Yuill and Lamara Bell had not yet started when this freedom of information response was received. The Crown Office confirmed: ‘The names [John Yuill and Lamara Bell] were not on the list provided to you in our FOI response of 5 August 2021 as, at that time, it had not formally been decided that a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) would be held in this case. Work has now begun to initiate a Fatal Accident Inquiry.’ (COPFS, Freedom of information response R-01693-21 (Continuation), 17 September 2021, Available on request).