21 December 2012
Freedom of Information Request: Fatal Accident Inquiries 2002-2012
You have requested the following information in terms of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002:
- How many Fatal Accident Inquiries have been held in Scotland in the period 2002-2012;
- On how many occasions were applications made (from any source) for Fatal Accident Inquiries to be held;
- On how many occasions were applications made for Fatal Accident Inquiries rejected;
- In cases where a Fatal Accident Inquiry is granted what period of time has elapsed on each occasion between the death which is the subject of the inquiry and the start of the Fatal Accident Inquiry; and
- What the cost of each Fatal Accident Inquiry held in Scotland since 2002 has been.
Our case management database suggests that between 1 April 2002 and 31 March 2012 605 Fatal Accident Inquiries were held. You may wish to note, however, that our case management system is designed to record the outcome of deaths recorded to Procurators Fiscal. Therefore, where appropriate, a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) will be recorded in relation to each death reported. This does not take account, for example, of cases in which a single FAI is held in respect of a number of deaths arising from the same circumstances. For example, where the circumstances surrounding two deaths are considered at a single FAI, our system will record this as two inquiries and may, therefore, provide an artificially high number. It may be that you might wish to check this information with the Scottish Court Service who may be in a position to provide you with more accurate information. I have provided contact details below.
The information you seek is also available, in part, elsewhere, namely in the report prepared by Lord Cullen which is available on the Scottish Government website at the link provided below. Details of the number of FAIs held between 2004/05 and 2008/09 is available at paragraph 4.2 of the report.
In terms of section 1(1) of the Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths Inquiry (Scotland) Act 1976 (the 1976 Act), where a death has occurred in defined mandatory categories, or where it appears to the Lord Advocate to be expedient in the public interest in the case of a sudden, suspicious or unexplained death to hold an inquiry under the 1976 Act, the Procurator Fiscal for the district most closely connected with the circumstances of the death with apply to the sheriff for the holding of an inquiry into the circumstances.
Therefore, in respect of each of the deaths into which a Fatal Accident Inquiry was held, such an application will have been made. There is no provision in terms of the 1976 Act for an application to be made by anyone other than the Procurator Fiscal and, in terms of section 3 of the 1976 Act, there is no discretion for a Sheriff to refuse such an application.
We do not hold information on our case management system about the number of applications for Fatal Accident Inquiries which were made or rejected, or whether any party other than a Procurator Fiscal has attempted to make such an application and, therefore, in terms of section 17 of FOISA, this information is not held by COPFS. However, in the light of the above, it can be assumed that applications were made by Procurators Fiscal in relation to each Fatal Accident Inquiry which was held, that no such applications were rejected and that no applications were made from any other source.
You have also requested information about the period of time which elapses between a death and the start of a Fatal Accident Inquiry.
We do endeavour to provide information whenever possible and the attached table at Annex A provides information from our case management system about the time taken in each death falling within the requested timescale and the first recorded court appearance. This will not necessarily be the Fatal Accident Inquiry itself, as it is not possible to provide this information without conducting a manual search of the relevant files which could not be conducted within the £600 limit established by FOISA. For example, if a preliminary hearing has been held in connection with such an Inquiry, that would represent the first court hearing recorded in relation to the FAI.
Of course, as you will be aware, where criminal proceedings are contemplated these will ordinarily take place prior to any Fatal Accident Inquiry, which may lead to some delay in holding the FAI. This is in order to ensure that criminal proceedings are not prejudiced in any way.
As you may be aware, deaths investigations are now overseen by the Scottish Fatalities Investigations Unit (SFIU). The SFIU was established with the intention of ensuring that all death reports are prepared according to the highest possible standards; that policy and practice in the investigation of deaths is applied consistently; and that appropriate and timely decisions are taken throughout the life of such cases. The Unit was launched by the Lord Advocate in March 2011 and oversees and provides advice and support to local specialist deaths investigators in Procurator Fiscal offices around the country and deals with more complex non-criminal cases, including providing guidance in all cases where a Fatal Accident Inquiry is to be held.
Finally, you have asked for the cost of each Fatal Accident Inquiry held since 2002. This is not information which is routinely collated by COPFS and I can therefore confirm in terms of section 17 of FOISA that COPFS does not hold this information. However, we have been able to ascertain the costs, since 2004, which have been coded as being associated with all FAIs. These total figures include, for example, any witness expenses or expert witness costs which have been coded as associated with FAIs. I can advise you that since 2004 costs of £260,331 have been recorded as associated with FAIs.