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Fatalities investigation

The Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit considers deaths that are reported to COPFS because they need further explanation. The specialist staff in the unit, along with those in our associated Health and Safety Division, help to establish the cause of deaths and, where necessary, ensure the best case is presented in prosecutions and fatal accident inquiries.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is committed to the prompt investigation of deaths, but accepts that in some cases the time taken to complete a thorough investigation has been too long.

In over 90% of the 11,000 deaths reported to COPFS in a year, the Procurator Fiscal completes their investigation and is able to close the case within 12 weeks.

However, in a small number of cases where the circumstances surrounding a death are particularly complex, a thorough investigation may take 12 months or longer to complete.

In rare cases, often involving the consideration of potential criminal proceedings or a Fatal Accident Inquiry, experience shows the timescale can be longer, and the Crown understands this may be distressing for families and next of kin.

COPFS has recently increased the resource available to the Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit (SFIU), with a view to reducing the time required to complete complex death investigations and improving the provision of information to families and next of kin.

In addition, COPFS has revised the way the progress of all death investigations is monitored to ensure that they are completed as efficiently as possible.

These measures represent a commitment to achieving a significant improvement in the service delivered by the Procurator Fiscal in this important area of work.

The progress of a death investigation depends on a variety of factors. While most death investigations conclude once a cause of death is known, other cases require further investigation, which may include complex technical and medical issues requiring the instruction of experts.

In all cases investigated by the Crown, a medical certificate of cause of death is issued by a medical professional, normally by a pathologist, following a post-mortem examination instructed by the Procurator Fiscal.  This information is communicated to the nearest relatives in accordance with the COPFS Family Liaison Charter.

This Charter sets out the different stages of the investigation process, the information which will be provided to families and the timescales for giving information.

The Charter also states that, when possible, additional information will be provided at any stage of the investigation upon request. More details are available here.

In cases where there will be an FAI, once the Procurator Fiscal has completed their investigations, the time taken to complete the judicial process and for a determination to be published is not in the control of COPFS.