Investigations into fatal accidents are taking too long and prolonging pain and upset for bereaved families say lawyers, as the Scottish Government consults on improving the inquiries process.
“The real problems lie with the huge delays before the matter gets as far as an inquiry,”explained Gordon Dalyell, Scotland representative of national not-for-profit group the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL).
“It can sometimes take years for a fatal accident inquiry to get underway because of delays in investigations by the Health and Safety Executive and the Crown Office in deciding whether one is necessary,” Mr Dalyell went on.
“Not only do delays make a difficult time drag on for the deceased’s family, which deserves answers, it also means that any safety failings which could have led to the death are left unaddressed and remain to put others at risk. Unfortunately this is the norm. In one case the inquiry into the death of a teenage girl in 2004 has only completed in July this year”.
APIL is supportive of recommendations made by Lord Cullen, which have been the subject of the consultation which closed on Tuesday (9 September). The proposals include the introduction of preliminary hearings so that administration can be resolved early on, and a flexible approach to inquiries for diseases as, for example, asbestos may be the cause of several illnesses in workers in a shipyard and individual inquiries may not be necessary.
But Mr Dalyell said that implementing Lord Cullen’s recommendations alone will not solve the delays.
“While we welcome improvements to the way the fatal accident inquiries are carried out,without proper organisation and speedier investigations at the outset the reforms are really a dead letter”.