Solicitor general apologises to families who have waited ‘too long’ for FAIs

Ruth Charteris KC was pressed by MSPs on the ‘excessive delays’ for fatal accident inquiries to take place.

Solicitor general apologises to families who have waited ‘too long’ for FAIs PA Media

Scotland’s solicitor general has apologised to families who have “waited too long” for a fatal accident inquiry (FAI) to be held into the death of a loved one.

Ruth Charteris KC said while there could be “legitimate reasons” for waits for such hearings to take place, she regretted the impact that this could have on families.

With figures last year showing the longest outstanding wait for an FAI to be completed was more than eight years, the solicitor general was asked if there were “excessive delays” in holding such proceedings.

They are held in a bid to establish what happened when someone has died suddenly or unexpectedly, or in the cases of suspicious deaths, with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) deciding if it would be in the public interest for an inquiry to take place.

SNP backbencher Fergus Ewing said families waiting to hear if an FAI is to be held could sometimes be “fobbed off with explanations that appear to have come from the bumper book of excuses”.

He demanded to know: “What faith can bereaved families have in the justice system when they have to wait in some cases for eight years before an FAI is actually held?”

Conservative justice spokesman Russell Findlay said “families keep being failed by Scotland’s slow and ineffective system of investigating sudden, suspicious accidental and unexplained deaths”.

The Tory MSP compared the “few dozen FAIs” which are held in Scotland each year to the “tens of thousands of coroner’s inquests” which take place annually in England and Wales.

Answering their questions in Holyrood, Ms Charteris explained that “thorough and independent investigations” often have to take place before a decision can be made on whether or not to hold an FAI.

She added that there are “often legitimate reasons for prolonged investigation”, although she said the COPFS “has significantly reformed its processes in recent years to improve the quality of death investigations and reduce the time taken to investigate deaths and bring FAIs to court”.

The solicitor general said: “In some cases FAIs have simply taken too long to commence and we appreciate and very much regret the impact which waiting for investigations to conclude has on families.

“I recognise that all families who have lost a loved one rightly expect investigations into the death to be progressed as expeditiously as possible.

“I offer my sincere apologies to those who have simply waited too long for FAI proceedings to commence. We want to do better.”

Adding that “significant modernisation has taken place”, Ms Charteris insisted that “there are clear indications that the situation is improving”.

She also stressed that “Scotland is not the only jurisdiction where a small number of complex deaths can take a long time to properly investigate”, telling MSPs that while coroner’s inquests can “begin rapidly in England”, in some cases it could still take “many years to reach a conclusion”.

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