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Fatal Accident Inquiries

Fatal Accident Inquiries (FAIs) are held under the Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths Inquiry (Scotland) Act 1976. An inquiry must be held in cases of death in custody or as a result of an accident at work.

The purpose of an FAI is not to apportion blame for the death in either the civil or criminal sense. An FAI may be held in other cases of sudden, suspicious or unexplained death, or death in circumstances that give rise to serious public concern. Decisions on whether these discretionary inquiries are held are made by the Lord Advocate.

A Fatal Accident Inquiry is essentially a fact-finding exercise carried out in the public interest. The rules of evidence and the standard of proof are as for civil cases in Scotland. The purpose of an FAI is to determine:

  • Where and when the death took place
  • The cause of the death
  • Reasonable precautions whereby the death might have been avoided
  • The defects, if any, in any system of working which contributed to the death or any accident resulting in the death
  • Any other relevant facts relevant to the circumstances of the death.

Procurators Fiscal investigate around 14,000 sudden deaths each year. There are usually around 50 or 60 Fatal Accident Inquiries in Scotland each year.

Fatal Accident Inquiry recommendations are made by sheriffs at the conclusion of all FAIs.

Review of Fatal Accident Inquiry Legislation

On March 7, 2008 the Cabinet Secretary for Justice Kenny MacAskill and the Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini announced that Lord Cullen was to lead a review of Fatal Accident Inquiry legislation in Scotland. Lord Cullen's report, Review of Fatal Accident Inquiry Legislation: the Report was published on November 3, 2009.