Waiting times for fatal accident inquiries (FAIs) have jumped by more than a third since last year, according to the Scottish Conservatives.
The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) said last year’s figures include five cases, each lasting five years, which have now concluded, and therefore the data is misleading.
But in response to a freedom of information request submitted by the Tories, COPFS data showed the average time taken to complete an FAI has risen by more than eight months, from 691 days in 2019-20 to 939 in 2020-21 – an increase of 36%.
The Tories said that in 2020-21 only two FAIs were completed within 12 months, and it took more than five years to conclude five inquiries. One inquiry from June 2012 was still open after almost a decade.
COPFS said it concluded 57 FAIs in 2019-20 and 59 between April 2020 and March 2021.
The majority of FAIs are completed between 12 and 18 months, according to the data.
Responding to the figures, Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Jamie Greene 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.”
A COPFS spokesperson said: “It would be incorrect to say that waiting times for fatal accident inquiries has increased by a third this year.
“The increase in average on 2020-21 is because the FAI into five deaths that were reported more than five years ago have concluded.
“These older cases are not representative of the whole of the work the procurator fiscal does in the investigation of deaths.
“COPFS has made significant changes to its practices and additional resources have been applied to this important area of work.
“There has been a particular focus on clearing a backlog of cases and consequently some older FAI have concluded, and that has pushed up the average of time taken.”