A CONSULTATION to examine how fatal accident inquiry legislation in Scotland can be reformed was launched yesterday.
It is being led by Lord Cullen of Whitekirk who will scrutinise arguments on how the act, which governs judicial investigations of sudden or unexpected deaths in Scotland, can be improved for the 21st century.
Suggestions include establishing a separate system whereby inquiries are not held in sheriff courts, to free up court time.
Presided over by sheriffs, they can often take several weeks to complete, particularly if they are oil industry-related, sparking delays in other cases.
Lord Cullen, who conducted public inquiries into the Piper Alpha disaster and the shootings at Dunblane Primary School, said: “It is claimed that if you had a different system, separated off from the sheriff court, you could cut down delay that is caused. It is a perfectly tenable argument but whether it is a good argument or not remains to be seen.”
Lord Cullen, who was appointed to the role by the Scottish Government, said it was “apparent” from submissions already made by professional bodies like the Crown Office and the Faculty of Solicitors that there was a desire for reform.
Lord Cullen, a former lord president of the Court of Session and lord justice general of Scotland, said he was interested in hearing from the relatives of those at the centre of inquiries to learn of their experiences.
Around 14,000 deaths are reported every year and half of them are investigated by the procurator fiscal.
News of the consultation last night sparked fresh calls for the inquests of Scottish soldiers killed in action abroad to be held in the country instead of Oxford.
The Scottish Government, which is in favour of the move, is currently locked in talks with the UK Government over the issue.
Aberdeen woman Diane Douglas, whose 22-year-old son, Lance Corporal Allan Douglas, died in January 2006 after being shot by a sniper in Iraq, said holding inquests in Edinburgh would mitigate the stress of travel for devastated families.
She said she and her husband Walter, of Stewart Terrace, had to attend the coroner’s court in Oxford twice and the added pressure was “beyond a joke”.
Former Army officer turned MSP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine Mike Rumbles agreed that holding inquiries in Scotland was “commonsense”.
Responses have to be made by February 20, 2009. Lord Cullen will make his recommendations later in the year.