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Longest fatal accident inquiry outstanding for eight years, figures show

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur has called for FAI reform. (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)
Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur has called for FAI reform. (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)

The longest outstanding wait for a fatal accident inquiry (FAI) to be completed in Scotland is more than eight years, figures have revealed.

From the date of the person’s death until October 31 2023, 3,037 days – or eight years and three months – had passed while the inquiry remained in limbo.

Meanwhile, an FAI that concluded in 2021-22 took nine years and four months – 3,440 days – to finish.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have called for Scottish ministers to reform the system, saying it is “unfit for purpose”.

The party’s plans would see Scotland adopt a process similar to the coroner system in England, by removing the remit from the Crown and Procurator Fiscal Service (CPFS) and setting a one-year timeline for an inquiry to commence.

Figures provided to the party by the CPFS also showed the average FAI completed in 2022-23 took 1,163 days – more than three years.

The average outstanding FAI has been more than two years – 774 days – while the average wait for a death in custody is 650 days.

FAIs into the deaths of Katie Allan and William Lindsay, who killed themselves within months of each other in Polmont Young Offenders Institute, are among those outstanding since 2018-19.

The Scottish Government said the laws were modernised in 2016, with no plans to revisit the legislation.

Liam McArthur, justice spokesman for the Scottish Lib Dems, said: “The fatal accident inquiry system should be about providing answers and learning lessons for the future, but a system that takes almost a decade to reach conclusions is deeply flawed and unfit for purpose.

“As time goes on and years pass, evidence is lost and memories fade, making it so much more difficult to provide families with much-needed answers about their loved ones.

“The SNP Government have had plenty of opportunities to reform fatal accident inquiries but they have chosen to cling to a failed system.

“It’s time for ministers to urgently undertake root-and-branch reform. Scottish Liberal Democrats would remove FAIs from the remit of the Crown Office and hand them to a new body charged with ensuring that inquiries begin within a year and that results are presented in a timely fashion, learning from the coroner system in England.”

A Government spokeswoman said: “The Lord Advocate is constitutionally responsible for the investigation of sudden, unexpected unexplained deaths in Scotland. These functions are exercised independently of the Scottish Government.

“The Crown Office has significantly reformed the arrangements for the investigation of deaths. These reforms have already resulted in reductions in the duration of death investigations and it is expected that they will continue to do so.

“Parliament considered and modernised the law on fatal accident inquiries in 2016 and there are currently no plans to revisit the legislation.”