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Inquiries into Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths etc (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 24th September 2015.

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Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

I have listened to the debate with great interest. When I made my opening speech, I was not aware that Patricia Ferguson had withdrawn her bill. I again pay tribute to her for the hard work that she put into that bill, and I commit to working with her on the areas that we have already discussed where we believe that we have common ground.

With that in mind, I want to respond to an intervention from Patricia Ferguson in which she raised the issue of potential reports to Parliament. I am willing to look at that proposal sympathetically. Obviously, we would want a system that was as streamlined as possible—perhaps one that looked at areas by exception, where recommendations had not been complied with. I am willing to entertain discussion with her on that point.

The Scottish Government’s Inquiries into Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths etc (Scotland) Bill modernises the way in which fatal accident inquiries are handled in Scotland. I believe that it provides the legislative framework that is needed to implement the Cullen recommendations in order to build on the reforms that the Crown Office has already carried out by establishing the Scottish fatalities investigation unit, which now oversees death investigations in Scotland.

The bill contains several new initiatives, including greater flexibility for the location of FAIs, which Elaine Murray and others mentioned; discretionary FAIs into deaths abroad; and the possibility of reopening or rerunning an FAI if new evidence appears, which Willie Coffey and others mentioned. The bill will underpin the new charter for bereaved families, on which the Crown Office has consulted. I will come back to that shortly.

The proposals that require parties to whom sheriff’s recommendations are addressed to respond and indicate what they have done by way of implementation will foster compliance, although I reiterate the point that I have just made to Ms Ferguson. It is worth noting, however, that we understand that the response rate in the equivalent process under the coroners system in England and Wales, which takes a similar approach, is 100 per cent, and we anticipate a high response rate in Scotland as well. Most parties to whom sheriff’s recommendations are addressed are only too keen to demonstrate compliance with them. Indeed, many such parties attend the inquiries and are able to hear the evidence as it unfolds, and they may take action to address points before the inquiry concludes.