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Coronavirus (COVID-19): information for bereaved families

The death of a loved one is an upsetting and distressing time. COPFS is sensitive to the needs of bereaved relatives and we appreciate that they may have further questions in light of the current Covid-19 pandemic.

In accordance with the Family Liaison Charter it is our aim to keep relatives informed about any investigation that is undertaken by COPFS. We have a dedicated area of our website providing more general information about the role of COPFS in investigating deaths. Below is specific information on the effect of Covid-19 on the reporting of deaths to the COPFS.

On 21 May 2020, updated guidance from the Lord Advocate was issued by the Chief Medical Officer, COPFS, Police Scotland and the Registrar General to medical professionals in Scotland. This confirmed that in light of significant public anxiety two categories of Covid-19, or presumed Covid-19, deaths should accordingly be reported to the COPFS. These two categories of Covid-19 deaths are:

Covid-19 deaths in employment

All Covid-19 or presumed Covid-19 deaths where the deceased might have contracted the virus in the course of their employment or occupation, for example, care home workers, front-line national health service staff, public transport employees and emergency services personnel.

Covid-19 deaths of residents in care homes

All Covid-19 or presumed Covid-19 deaths where the deceased was resident in a care home when the virus was contracted.

This further guidance applies retrospectively to deaths in those two additional categories that have already occurred. Information about these deaths will be collated and reported to COPFS without imposing additional reporting requirements on medical practitioners at this critical time.

You do not need to do anything about this development separately.

Deaths that would have otherwise been reported to COPFS, for example where the deceased was in police custody or prison and Covid-19 was present, will continue to be reported.

The nature and extent of any investigation by COPFS in relation to a death that is reported will depend on the particular circumstances of each case. The purpose of the investigation is to understand the circumstances of the death, where possible to prevent future deaths in similar circumstances and where appropriate to take any necessary action.

In some cases, the investigation required might be quite limited and can be closed with no further action, and in others it might be more extensive. That will depend on the particular circumstances.

COPFS is working together with other agencies, for example Health and Safety Executive, local authorities, Care Inspectorate and police to ensure the right investigations are undertaken by the right agencies. This will also allow COPFS to make the right decisions about whether further investigation is required.

Police Scotland undertakes work as instructed by COPFS and this includes making enquiries into the investigation of sudden, unexpected and unexplained deaths. The involvement of the police, for this purpose at this time, does not mean that a crime is being investigated. The police are one of many agencies that are working together to provide COPFS with information about deaths that have occurred from Covid-19 in order to assess if any further action is required.

The information that is gathered from all relevant agencies, including Police Scotland, will help COPFS understand the deaths; with the aim of preventing future deaths in similar circumstances and where appropriate to take any action that is required.

COPFS has established a dedicated Covid-19 Death Investigation Team to make the process as smooth as possible for bereaved relatives. Every investigation will be different and will take a different amount of time before it can be concluded; therefore, COPFS cannot give a commitment about the precise time that any investigation will take.

It is anticipated that most death investigations will be concluded relatively quickly.

If you would like further information about the death of your loved one whose death has been reported to COPFS in relation to the categories detailed above, you can contact us and we will arrange for the dedicated team to discuss this with you.

The Lord Advocate has instructed that all deaths from Covid-19 of residents in care homes are to be reported to COPFS.  This instruction is issued in the public interest and applies without exception. The purpose of the investigation is to understand the circumstances of the death and where possible to prevent future deaths in similar circumstances.

COPFS remains sensitive to the needs of bereaved relatives at this distressing time and in accordance with the Family Liaison Charter it is our aim to keep relatives informed about any deaths that COPFS is investigating. 

A post-mortem will only be required where necessary and COPFS will keep you informed if this is to happen.
COPFS does not anticipate that the steps announced in the recent guidance will delay the ability of families to make funeral arrangements. In cases in which there may be a delay, it will be kept to the absolute minimum. COPFS will ensure that the family is kept informed about the investigation, in accordance with the Family Liaison Charter.
The system for investigating deaths in Scotland includes, but does not require, a fatal accident inquiry into every death that is reported to COPFS.  There is more information on the Our role in investigating deaths page about fatal accident inquiries.

The emergence of Covid-19 outbreak has had an impact upon the work of the medical and scientific professionals upon whom COPFS relies to identify the causes of unexpected deaths.

COPFS has remained in close consultation with its service providers as they review and develop safe working practices. We hope to minimise any delays to completing the work that needs to be done.