Publication - Research and analysis

Consultation on Proposals to Reform Fatal Accident Inquiries Legislation - Analysis of Consultation Responses

Published: 21 Nov 2014
Part of:
Research
ISBN:
9781784129347

This report provides an analysis of responses to the Scottish Government’s Consultation on proposals to reform Fatal Accident Inquiries legislation. The consultation ran from 1 July and 9 September 2014 with 58 responses received.

65 page PDF

852.3 kB

65 page PDF

852.3 kB

Contents
Consultation on Proposals to Reform Fatal Accident Inquiries Legislation - Analysis of Consultation Responses
5 Fatal Accident Inquiry accommodation

65 page PDF

852.3 kB

5 Fatal Accident Inquiry accommodation

5.1 The consultation paper notes that Lord Cullen recommended that FAIs could be taken out of court buildings into other accommodation more suitable for such proceedings. He recommended that an FAI should, where possible, not be held in a sheriff courtroom but in other appropriate premises.

Ad hoc accommodation for FAIs

5.2 The Scottish Court Service has previously held larger, long running FAIs outwith court buildings and the use of ad hoc accommodation may be extended with other suitable locations being considered. One advantage of the use of these premises would be that FAIs would be taken out of court rooms, which would meet one of Lord Cullen's recommendations and would also benefit court programming. The major advantage of holding longer and more complex FAIs in dedicated, ad hoc accommodation is that there are fewer competing demands which need to be taken into account. However, a balance would need to be achieved between the timescale when an FAI can proceed and any inconvenience for family members and witnesses in travelling to a different location.

5.3 FAIs which relate to deaths in rural or remote parts of Scotland could continue to be held locally. This would mean that bereaved families and witnesses would not have to travel longer distances to attend the FAI.

Question 16: Do you agree with the proposal that the majority of FAIs should be dealt with in ad hoc locations, but FAIs which relate to deaths in rural or remote areas should still be dealt with in local sheriff courts?

5.4 The majority of respondents who answered this question agreed that the majority of FAIs should be dealt with in ad hoc locations, but FAIs which relate to deaths in rural or remote areas should still be dealt with in local sheriff courts. Responses are set out in Table 15 below.

Table 15: Question 16 - Response by Respondent Type

Respondent Type

Yes

No

Not Answered
No View

Total

Insurance industry bodies or firms

4

-

-

4

Legal bodies or firms

5

4

5

14

Local authorities

6

-

1

7

Public bodies

7

3

5

15

Representative groups

3

2

4

9

Total Organisations

(25)

(9)

(15)

(49)

Individuals

3

2

3

8

TOTAL

28

11

18

57

5.5 Thirty seven respondents made a further comment. Further comments suggest that some respondents agreed with both propositions (use of ad hoc locations and use of sheriff courts in remote locations), some with one or other of the propositions and some with neither.

5.6 Many of those who agreed with the proposal pointed to the need to make best use of the range of accommodation available, particularly if delays in holding FAIs can be reduced as a result.

5.7 It was also suggested that taking an FAI out of the court setting could help avoid the Inquiry becoming adversarial in nature. However, an alternative view was that holding FAIs in other centres would not necessarily lead to a more relaxed atmosphere and that more effective and pro-active management will be required if a less confrontational atmosphere is to be created. A number of respondents agreed with Lord Cullen's suggestion that other premises may be more suitable to the needs of bereaved families, although a small number of respondents questioned the appropriateness of a less formal setting, including any assumption that members of the public would prefer such an approach.

5.8 A small number of respondents commented specifically on the arrangements for rural and remote areas, including questioning how those terms would be applied in practice. It was also suggested that the range of business carried out in courts in remote locations means they are ill-suited to hearing of FAIs of significant duration or that the court buildings in rural and remote areas are often unsuitable for disabled people and children.

5.9 Amongst the issues raised by those who disagreed with the proposal was that FAIs would need to be adequately resourced wherever they are held and that those resourcing requirements can be both considerable and specific. For example, the Sheriffs' Association explained that space for sheriffs, legal representatives and witnesses is needed and that there must be access to clerks and bar officers. They also noted that the appropriate security arrangements are essential as is adequate provision of IT, including facilities for the digital recording of evidence and a video link where appropriate. These requirements lead them to conclude that sheriff courts provide the best facilities at no extra cost.

5.10 Other concerns about using alternative locations included that bereaved families and witnesses would be inconvenienced by having to travel distances to the FAI venue, including by last-minute changes in the location of an FAI.

5.11 Suggestions about venues to be used were that:

  • It would be helpful for inquiries in relation to potential medical mishap to be held in locations accessible to medical experts.
  • Local town halls could be used.

Fatal Accident Inquiry Centres

5.12 Another possibility which has been proposed is that all FAIs in Scotland might be held in dedicated centres. This would mean that they would always be available and there would be no competing business that would need to be taken into account. The proposal is that there would be three such centres, one in the North of Scotland, one in the East and one in the West. This is likely to mean that families and witnesses will have to travel further than to their local sheriff court but, as with the proposal for ad hoc locations, the major advantage of holding FAIs in bespoke accommodation would be to provide an out of court room environment in line with Lord Cullen's recommendations, and ensuring that there would be no competing business demands which need to be taken into account. The increasing use of video technology could also reduce the requirement to travel.

Question 17: Do you think that all FAIs in Scotland should be held in three bespoke, dedicated centres?

5.13 A significant majority of respondents who answered this question disagreed with the establishment of three bespoke, dedicated centres, although a significant minority of respondents, including the majority of Representative Group Respondents, did support the proposal. Responses are set out in Table 16 below.

Table 16: Question 17 - Response by Respondent Type

Respondent Type

Yes

No

Not Answered
No View

Total

Insurance industry bodies or firms

-

4

-

4

Legal bodies or firms

1

10

3

14

Local authorities

1

5

1

7

Public bodies

2

5

8

15

Representative groups

5

1

3

9

Total Organisations

(9)

(25)

(15)

(49)

Individuals

2

4

2

8

TOTAL

11

29

17

57

5.14 Thirty nine respondents made a further comment. The principal objections to the bespoke FAI centres were in relation to the impact on those attending the FAI, and bereaved families in particular. Those raising this concern often pointed to the inconvenience and possible costs incurred, as well as the possibility that people may feel more comfortable in familiar locations which are close to their support networks.

5.15 Other respondents questioned whether establishing such centres was necessary (given the option to use ad hoc locations and the number of FAIs held), or whether the costs could be justified, particularly at a time when public sector budgets are under pressure.

5.16 Finally, a small number of respondents pointed to the need to continue to hold FAIs in the formal court setting, suggesting this approach would hopefully compel people to co-operate and tell the truth.

5.17 However, the Scottish Court Service did suggest that:

"…there are clearly organisational advantages to being able to concentrate FAI business. As well as allowing the concentration of judicial and administrative expertise, concentration could help to reduce the impact of the court programme on FAI business allocation - and vice versa."

5.18 Others agreed and pointed to the particular advantages of concentrating expertise, including through the opportunity for dedicated specialist sheriffs to conduct FAIs. Other comments made by those supporting the development of dedicated centres included that the arrangements would need to support video participation by families and potentially by some witnesses and that preliminary hearings or pre-hearing meetings of expert witnesses should not be held at the centres.

5.19 Finally, and looking to the future, The Scottish Court Service commented that in the longer term their vision is:

"…to develop the concept of the "justice centre" to serve the main population centres of Scotland, providing concentrated specialist and comprehensive facilities within a wider network of smaller courts: such centres in the future could serve as the principal venue for concentrating FAIs."

Question 18: What impact do you think that the use of FAI centres, or taking FAIs out of sheriff courts, would have on those attending FAIs?

5.20 Forty respondents made a comment at Question 18, with comments very much reflecting the issues raised at Questions 16 and 17. For example, some respondents noted that the impact on bereaved family members and witnesses will depend on how far they may have to travel to attend an FAI. A number also went on to suggest that any negative impacts (such as needing to pay travel or accommodation costs), must be mitigated. Some respondents also commented that this would, in turn, have an impact on the costs associated with holding FAIs and on the Legal Aid Fund in particular.

5.21 Positive impacts suggested included that:

  • Bereaved families, witnesses, services and the wider community would all benefit from any reduction in delays that resulted from using different locations.
  • Bereaved families and witnesses would be subject to less stress if the FAI is held outwith the formal court setting. The potential offered by allowing witnesses to provide statements from remote sites was also raised by Victim Support Scotland suggesting that this procedure takes away some of the formalities and intimidation of giving evidence.

5.22 In considering how these proposals should be taken forward, including the impact they would have, the Scottish Court Service recommended that due regard be given to the principles of access to justice outlined in their "Shaping Scotland's Court Services" consultation.

5.23 Finally, it was suggested that taking FAIs out of the formal court setting could have a negative impact if those involved were less inclined to treat the process with the necessary respect.


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Email: Marisa Strutt