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Scottish Parliament Passes Fatal Accident Inquiry Bill

New laws to modernise the Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) process have been passed by the Scottish Parliament.

The Inquiries into Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths etc. (Scotland) Bill will introduce a number of changes that the Scottish Government says will ensure a system which is effective, efficient and fair.

Discretionary FAIs into the deaths of Scots abroad will be introduced for the first time. In addition, the new legislation will provide:

  • Mandatory FAIs for new categories of deaths, including the deaths of children in secure accommodation and deaths under police arrest, regardless of location.
  • The power to reopen an FAI if new evidence arises, and to hold a fresh FAI if the new evidence is substantial enough.
  • Flexibility on the locations and accommodation for FAIs.
  • A requirement on individuals or organisations to explain how they have implemented recommendations placed on them by a sheriff after an FAI, or why none have been implemented.

The Crown Office will also introduce a family liaison charter, to stand alongside the Bill, to keep bereaved families fully informed of the progress of a death investigation and the likelihood of criminal proceedings or a fatal accident inquiry.

FAIs are inquisitorial fact-finding hearings that do not apportion blame or guilt in a criminal or civil sense. FAIs are held in the public interest to establish the circumstances of sudden, suspicious or unexplained death which have caused serious public concern.

Around 11,000 deaths are reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service each year, and an average of 50 – 60 of these result in an FAI being held. In around a third of those inquiries, the sheriff recommends precautions which could prevent deaths in similar circumstances in the future.

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