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FAI delays for families 'staggering', Lib Dems claim

Some relatives have waited up to a decade for a fatal accident inquiry to be completed.

Paperwork: The Crown Office figures show there are currently 127 FAIs outstanding.
Paperwork: The Crown Office figures show there are currently 127 FAIs outstanding. Pixabay

Families are facing "scandalous" waiting times for the conclusion of inquiries into the death of loved ones, it has been claimed.

Figures obtained by the Scottish Liberal Democrats following a freedom of information (FOI) request indicate some relatives are having to wait up to a decade following a death for a fatal accident inquiry (FAI) to be completed.

The Crown Office figures show there are currently 127 FAIs outstanding, with an incomplete inquiry into two deaths that happened eight years ago recorded as having taken the longest amount of time, at almost 3000 days.

One FAI was only completed in 2014-15, a decade after the death.

A total of 245 FAIs were completed over the last five years, with figures indicating the average length of time to complete inquiries has gradually been decreasing.

In 2013-14, the average number of days taken to complete an inquiry was 927. By 2017-18, this figure had been cut to an average of 690 days.

The longest time taken to complete an inquiry was also down over that period, with 2559 days recorded in 2013-14 compared with 1685 days in 2017-18.

'Delays like these will cause families unimaginable distress, hinder inquiries and prevent lessons being learned'
Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Liam McArthur

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesman Liam McArthur said: "The sheer length of these waits is staggering. Families feel powerless.

"Waiting up to a decade to learn the precise circumstances that surrounded a loved one's death is nothing short of scandalous.

"Delays like these will cause families unimaginable distress, hinder inquiries and prevent lessons being learned.

"Public services need to know quickly what changes will keep people safe. Ultimately, delays put lives at risk.

"We've warned the Scottish Government about the hurt this is causing before. These new figures are yet more evidence that there is an entrenched pattern of delay in Fatal Accident Inquiries.

"It is now incumbent on the Justice Secretary and the Lord Advocate to find the root cause of these systematic delays. Any system where it takes this long to get answers is broken."

A Crown Office spokesman said: "The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service accepts that a small number of death investigations have taken too long to conclude and has revised the way the progress of all death investigations is monitored to ensure that they are completed as efficiently as possible.

"We have recently increased the resource available to the Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit, 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."

He said this represents "a commitment to achieving a significant improvement" in the service.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman added: "Investigations of deaths and decisions on fatal accident inquiries are matters for the Lord Advocate acting independently.

"The Scottish Government is providing an additional £5m in the budget for 2019-20 to allow them to continue to increase staffing in response to an increasingly complex caseload."

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