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Unascertained Deaths (R009553)

Freedom of Information: Unascertained Deaths (R009553)

Thank you for your e-mail of 30 January 2015 to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) Response and Information Unit. Your correspondence has been treated as a request for information in terms of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA). In particular, you have asked the following questions:

1)   “Why are unascertained deaths not thoroughly investigated?”;
2)   “How many deaths fall into the “unascertained” category each year?”;
3)   ”What are the criteria for investigating unascertained deaths?” and
4)   “Would COPFS support a new policy of investigating all “unascertained” deaths? Does COPFS think it is feasible to create a new policy of investigating all “unascertained” deaths?

I have answered each of these points below.

1)   All sudden, suspicious, accidental or unexplained deaths reported to COPFS are thoroughly investigated. Despite a full and thorough investigation it is not always possible to identify a final cause of death. In such cases the cause of death is stated as being 'unascertained'.

2)   It may assist to explain that COPFS uses a live operational case management system, specifically designed to receive criminal and death reports from the police and other specialist reporting agencies and to manage the cases for prosecution purposes.  The information held on the system is structured for these operational needs, rather than for statistical reporting or research purposes.

Details of whether the cause of death in a particular case is ‘unascertained’ is not information that is recorded on the COPFS electronic case management system. As such, it is not possible to conduct a search of the electronic system for such cases. To provide the information that you have requested we would have to conduct a manual search of all deaths reported to COPFS.  Section 1(1) of FOISA Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 does not oblige a Scottish public authority to comply with a request for information if the authority estimates that the cost of complying with the request exceeds a specified financial threshold, which is currently £600.  We estimate that due to the volume of cases, checking all such cases to comply with this request would exceed the £600 threshold.

I am sorry that I cannot be of more assistance.

3)   COPFS investigates all sudden, suspicious, accidental or unexplained deaths. Suspicious deaths are investigated in order to determine whether a criminal offence has been committed. Sudden, accidental or unexplained deaths are investigated either because a doctor is unable to confirm the cause of the death and is therefore unable to issue a death certificate or because there is a requirement to hold a mandatory fatal accident inquiry or because grounds may exist to consider whether a discretionary fatal accident inquiry should be held. Unascertained deaths will fall into one of these categories and there is therefore no separate criteria for investigating such deaths.

4)   COPFS would not support a new policy as all unascertained deaths are already fully investigated. As already outlined, it is not always possible to identify a final cause of death in every case despite there being a full investigation into the circumstances of the death.