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Parliamentary Debates and Questions

S5W-17463: Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands)

Scottish Liberal Democrats

Date lodged: 25 June 2018

To ask the Scottish Government for what reason mandatory fatal accident enquiries into prisoner deaths for (a) six cases in 2014, (b) six cases in 2015, (c) 18 cases in 2016 and (d) 24 cases in 2017 are still awaiting outcomes.

Answered by: James Wolffe QC 12 July 2018

I understand Mr McArthur’s question to refer to 54 cases involving deaths in prison custody which are referred to on the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) website. The SPS website does not record information about the progress of an inquiry, for example whether it has commenced or has been scheduled by the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS).

Of the 54 cases referred to, a FAI has in fact been concluded in 8 cases and in 6 of those 8 the Sheriff’s determination has been issued. In 14 cases, FAI proceedings have commenced and preliminary hearings have been heard. In 3 of those 14 cases, a FAI has been scheduled. Investigations are ongoing in respect of the 32 remaining cases, with an application for a FAI anticipated to be made to the respective Sheriff Clerks in respect of 13 of those 32 cases by the end of August 2018.

In each of the 54 cases a medical certificate of cause of death has been issued by a medical professional, normally by a pathologist, following a post mortem examination instructed by the Procurator Fiscal. This information has been communicated to the nearest relatives in accordance with the Family Liaison Charter which I laid before the Scottish Parliament in September 2016. In addition, in relation to all FAIs nearest relatives are kept advised of significant developments as the investigation proceeds towards an FAI.

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. Equally, where a FAI is to be held, the speed with which it proceeds to the conclusion of evidence, and, thereafter, to issue of the sheriff’s determination depends on a variety of factors, including the scale and complexity of the inquiry and the other demands on court and judicial time.