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New Bill to reform FAIs in Scotland

Labour MSP Patricia Ferguson has launched a consultation exercise on a proposed members Bill to overhaul the Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) system in Scotland.

According to Ms Ferguson, the Inquiries into Deaths (Scotland) Bill aims to create a system for investigating sudden and accidental deaths which is fit for purpose: allowing for a thorough investigation and also for lessons to be learned from the death.

The case for change

FAIs are currently governed by the Fatal Accident and Sudden Deaths Inquiries Act 1976. They take place following deaths that have occurred in a number of prescribed situations, including where deaths occur after a workplace accident or while the deceased was in custody.

Ms Ferguson claims that the current legislation is now outdated and needs overhauling for a number of reasons, particularly because:

  • The ‘lessons learned’ reason for holding an FAI is no longer given equal importance to establishing the facts of what happened. It is vitally important to learn lessons from these deaths to help ensure the future safety of those who may find themselves in a similar situation, says Ms Ferguson.
  • The findings of a FAI are not given due weight, as there is no requirement to follow the Sheriff’s recommendations. Ms Ferguson claims that legislation is necessary to ensure FAI recommendations are given the force they need.
  • There is an “illogical” distinction between types of workplace death at the moment, with a fatal workplace accident included within the scope of a FAI, but not a death that is the result of an industrial disease or exposure to dangerous substances.

New legislation proposed

Ms Ferguson has therefore proposed a new Bill, which will re-enact with amendments the existing legislation:

“(a) to extend the scope of inquiries to cover work-related deaths not resulting from accidents, such as deaths from industrial diseases and deaths resulting from exposure at work to certain substances

(b) to make the process of investigating deaths quicker and more transparent, to refer appropriate cases to specialist sheriff courts, and to give the families of the deceased person a more central role in the process.”

Not fit for purpose

Speaking at the launch of the consultation, Patricia Ferguson said that she had “witnessed first-hand the devastation caused to families following the death of a loved one by the woeful system we have in place to carry out a fatal accident inquiry. After suffering the trauma and heartache of losing a family member in sudden or unexplained circumstances it surely should not be too much to ask that the process for investigating this death does not cause further agony and grief.”

She described the current system as “simply not fit for purpose”, and went on to express the hope that the consultation would lead to the creation of a new system that would address the existing problems and put in place a mechanism to ensure families know what has happened, why it happened and what will be done to prevent it from happening again.

Support for the proposals

The move has been welcomed by some organisations, with the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) pledging its support for the consultation.

“In our experience inquiries, held in public to examine deaths at work, take an unacceptable amount of time for those who have lost loved ones to establish the circumstances surrounding their deaths,” said STUC Deputy General Secretary Dave Moxham.

“Far too often any recommendations made are not implemented and we are of the view that Patricia Ferguson’s proposals will provide: answers for bereaved families at the earliest opportunity; the facility for lessons to be learned from the circumstances surrounding the deaths; and for legally enforceable and meaningful recommendations to be implemented to prevent similar and needless tragedies re-occurring,” he added.

Contains Scottish Parliamentary information licensed under the Open Scottish Parliament Licence v1.0.

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