Fatal accident inquiry
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A fatal accident inquiry (FAI) is a Scottish judicial process which investigates and determines the circumstances of some deaths occurring in Scotland. They do not at present (unlike the English equivalent process) apply to deaths occurring in other jurisdictions.
Fatal Accident Inquiries were introduced into Scots Law by the Fatal Accidents Inquiry (Scotland) Act 1895, before which time the circumstances of a death which required examination were determined by a procurator fiscal. Since then, the procurator fiscal now deals with the investigation and initiation of such inquiries. The applicable legislation is the Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths Inquiry (Scotland) Act 1976; this provides for FAIs to be held on a compulsory basis for some deaths and on a discretionary basis for others. The FAI process was reviewed by Lord Cullen of Whitekirk for the Scottish Government in 2008, following which the Scottish Government consulted on proposals in 2014. The Inquiries into Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths etc. (Scotland) Act 2016 was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 10 December 2015 When brought into force it will replace the 1976 Act.
Generally the Procurator Fiscal will receive notification of a person's death and will investigate any which appear suspicious or where investigation is mandatory regardless of the suspicion of crime. Where the death appears to be due to a criminal act the Procurator Fiscal will initiate investigations by the police or other appropriate public authorities to enable the identification of suspects and associated evidence to enable him to prosecute the case in the Sheriff Court or for an Advocate Depute to prosecute in the High Court of Justiciary. However, if the circumstances give rise to investigation, or if the death occurred while the deceased was in lawful custody the Fiscal may choose to examine matters in greater detail. Where the circumstances justify it in the public interest, or where there is a statutory requirement the Fiscal will intimate his intention to prepare evidence for a Fatal Accident Inquiry.
A Fatal Accident Inquiry will take place before a Sheriff (judge) in a Sheriff court. There is no jury.
In particular, in terms of section 6 of the Act the Sheriff is required to produce a determination. In drafting a determination the Sheriff is required to consider five distinct areas: a) time and place of the death; b) the cause of death; c) any precautions which may have avoided the death; d) any defects in the system of working which may have avoided the death, and; e) any other relevant considerations. Evidence is presented by the Procurator Fiscal in the public interest, and other parties may be represented. Parties can choose representation by counsel (Advocate) or solicitor, or may appear in person.
Differences from other jurisdictions
In Scotland, an FAI deals with deaths which have occurred in Scotland, whereas in England and Wales a Coroner will deal with the investigation of a death where the body lies within his district irrespective of where the death actually occurred. Among other matters this has led to some distress being caused to the families of servicemen who have been killed abroad but whose bodies have been returned through or to England at the insistence of the Ministry of Defence and in consequence their funerals have been delayed . In more general circumstances it can result in other deaths abroad not being subjected to judicial oversight. Both of these are matters which might be affected by changes resulting from the (2008-2009) Scottish Government review.
Events subject to a fatal accident inquiry
- The Quintinshill rail disaster in 1915
- The 1971 Ibrox disaster
- Pan Am Flight 103, Lockerbie (1988)
- 1994 Scotland RAF Chinook crash, Mull of Kintyre
- The helicopter crash that killed Colin McRae in 2007
- 2014 Glasgow bin lorry crash