fatal accident

Fatal accident inquiry

A fatal accident inquiry (FAI) is a unique aspect of the Scottish legal system, which is requested by a Procurator Fiscal when a fatal accident has occurred. The legislation underpining this procedure is the Fatal Accident and Sudden Deaths (Scotland) Act 1976.

Generally the Procurator Fiscal will receive notification of a person's death and will investigate any which appear suspicious. Where the death was caused by a deliberate action the Procurator Fiscal will begin proceedings for prosecution in the Sheriff Court or an Advocate Depute prosecute in the High Court of Justiciary. However, if the circumstances give rise to investigation, or if the death occurred while the deceased was in lawful custody the Fiscal may choose to examine matters in greater detail. Where is the circumstances justify it in the public interest, or where there is a statutory requirement the Fiscal will intimate his intention to proceed with a Fatal Accident Inquiry.

A Fatal Accident Inquiry will take place before a Sheriff (judge) in a Sheriff court but the role of the Sheriff is to ensure that points of Scots law are adhered to. The actual investigation is carried out by the Procurator Fiscal who will call witnesses and receive written evidence.

In particular, in terms of section 6 of the Act the Sheriff is required to produce a determination. In drafting a determination the Sheriff is required to consider five distinct areas: a) time and place of the death; b) the cause of death; c) any precautions which may have avoided the death; d) any defects in the system which may have avoided the death, and; e) any other relevant considerations. Evidence is presented by the Procurator fiscal in the public interest, and other parties may be represented. Parties can choose representation by counsel (Advocate) or solicitor, or may appear in person.

See also

  • Events subject to a fatal accident inquiry:

*Pan Am Flight 103, Lockerbie (1988)
*the sinking of the pelagic trawler Antares, of Carradale in Kintyre, with the loss of its four crewmen after its nets were snagged by a Royal Navy submarine HMS Trenchant (1990)
*Chinook helicopter crash, Mull of Kintyre (1994)

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