Campaign groups representing the families of victims in Scotland who die in sudden and unexplained accidents have welcomed a review of the existing fatal accident inquiries (FAIs) process, with the former head of Scotland's judiciary Lord Cullen to face questions from MSPs today.
Currently FAIs are only held for deaths at work, in custody, or in cases which give rise to reasonable suspicion. However, the Fatal Accidents & Sudden Deaths (Scotland) Bill is proposing to extend their use to Scots who die abroad as well as allowing completed inquiries to be reopened if new evidence comes to light. If accepted, the new laws would also cover work-related deaths not resulting from accidents, such as industrial disease and exposure to harmful substances.
Louise Taggart, co-founder of Families Against Corporate Killers and a speaker at today's committee, has welcomed the proposal to give the families of the deceased a more central role in the process, describing it as a ‘step forward'.
"It is the rule, not the exception, for families to have to wait lengthy periods for answers,” she said in her submission to the committee. “It is utterly unacceptable. The stress of getting through each day without a husband, son, parent, sibling by your side is hard enough. Doing that while not knowing how or why they died makes it all the more unbearable."
"It is not difficult to understand why their views may be rather different after such a length of time than they would have been just months after the death. A family will very often end up exhausted by the process. All too often families are left to engage in a battle with the justice system, a system which should be there to serve them.
"And just when they are getting to the end of the criminal processes, they are asked to put themselves through more pain to get answers they should have had years before. And to what end? Any recommendations that could be made are not enforceable, not meaningful."
FAIs were established in 1895 to reveal defects in procedures which led to unnatural deaths and that could be rectified in order to prevent them from happening again.
Around 14,000 deaths are investigated by Procurators-fiscal – a public prosecutor in Scotland – every year; however, only about 60 of those are scrutinised by a FAI.
The committee of MSPs will also hear from Death Abroad – You're Not Alone founder Julie Love, whose son Colin died while on holiday in January 2009.