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Deaths Abroad (Support for Families)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 5th November 2019.

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Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

3. To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the report by the all-party parliamentary group on deaths abroad, consular services and assistance, “Why families in the UK deserve better and what can be done”. (S5T-01860)

Photo of Ben Macpherson Ben Macpherson Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government recognises the difficulties that are faced by Scottish families who suffer the death of a loved one abroad, and ministers have met a number of families to discuss their experiences.

We are grateful to the all-party parliamentary group for its serious work on a serious and emotive issue. Although it is the role of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to provide consular support, the Scottish Government is committed to exploring the issue further and identifying where support can be improved. We will therefore carefully consider the report’s findings and how we can work alongside United Kingdom Government departments and other key agencies and stakeholders to improve how victims and their families are supported following the death of a relative overseas.

I am sure that I speak for the whole chamber when I say that our thoughts remain with the many families who have lost a loved one in such circumstances.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

The all-party parliamentary group’s report is based on the lived experience of 60 families who have suffered the trauma of a loved one dying abroad. As it is crucial that we all move from expressing our condolences to taking action, will the minister commit to fully informing Parliament of his consideration of all the germane recommendations, including the recommendation that the Pearson-Maxwell protocol be adopted to help with the costs of translation, emergency travel and repatriation when those are not covered by travel insurance?

Photo of Ben Macpherson Ben Macpherson Scottish National Party

The all-party parliamentary group’s report is detailed and comprehensive and, as Angela Constance said, it sets out the experience of many families. I am sure that she will appreciate that the Government as a whole will want to take time to properly consider the report’s various recommendations.

That said, I make it clear that we are open minded about looking at various ways of supporting families who have lost a loved one abroad. Complications with repatriation and the costs involved are a common issue for many families. The victim surcharge fund might be able to assist with that although, given the fund’s legal focus on supporting families who have been victims of crime, it might be difficult to use it to support families who are involved in cases in which there has been an accidental death.

We will look at the report recommendation that Angela Constance referred to in detail as part of a wider evaluation and consideration of the report’s full recommendations and respond as appropriate.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

Both the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and the First Minister were kind enough to meet my constituents, the family of

Kirsty Maxwell, so they know how abandoned this family feels. Will the minister therefore agree to extend the families bereaved by crime service to include those who have lost a loved one abroad due to murder, manslaughter, or indeed suspicious circumstances, as that would help to create a more comprehensive and trauma-informed service for families such as Kirsty’s?

Photo of Ben Macpherson Ben Macpherson Scottish National Party

The Victim Support Scotland service for families who have been bereaved by crime provides dedicated and continuous support for families who have been bereaved by murder or culpable homicide. At present, cases involving a death abroad are outwith the scope of that service, as the report notes.

The service is in its first year of operation and it has already expanded its scope to ensure the availability of support for families where the death may have occurred some time ago but there is on-going interaction with the justice system—for example, in relation to temporary release or parole.

We are open minded about recommendation 5e. We are keen to ensure that the impact of any further changes to the scope of the fund would be well understood and adequately resourced. We will consider recommendation 5e as part of our serious analysis of the recommendations as a whole.

The justice secretary and the external affairs secretary will meet soon to discuss the report’s recommendations and they will look to engage with the new United Kingdom Government, when it is established, on those issues. Officials here are already engaged with Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials on the report’s recommendations, and the justice secretary has just informed me that he would be happy to meet Angela Constance to discuss the report at an appropriate point in the near future.