Saturday, March 08, 2008

Lord Cullen, formerly of the Dunblane Inquiry, to chair FAI probe

Lord Cullen, the famous Judge who chaired the Dunblane Inquiry, which left more questions than answers, has been selected by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, to chair the probe announced into Scotland's system of Fatal Accident Inquiries ...

We are left wondering whether it was Kenny MacAskill who selected Lord Cullen, or the legal establishment itself ....

The Herald reports :

Fatal accident inquiries probe welcomed by campaigners

DAVID LEASK March 08 2008

Scotland's system of fatal accident inquiries is heading for its first overhaul in three decades.

Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill yesterday announced a review of the hearings, delighting campaigners who have fought for years for them to be beefed up.

Mr MacAskill appointed one of the country's most respected legal minds, Lord Cullen, to look at ways of making the rarely held inquiries "fit for purpose". The retired Lord Justice General, who led investigations into the Dunblane shootings and Piper Alpha, is expected to take around a year to do so.

The minister said: "Although we believe the system has served Scotland well in the main, concerns have been raised in recent years.

"The Scottish Government has listened to these concerns and that is why we want to see a more fundamental examination of the fatal accident inquiry system."

Campaigners - led by MSPs and the Enable Scotland, a charity which supports disabled people in the community - have long argued that FAIs can take too long to organise and that any recommendations they generate are not binding.

At present all sudden, accidental, unexpected or unexplained deaths are investigated by procurators-fiscal, but only a small number, around 60 a year, are scrutinised in detail by a sheriff in an FAI.

Enable raised concerns over FAIs after it discovered recommendations on the care of disabled people in hospital were not followed after a hearing into the death of one of its clients.

The charity's chief executive, Norman Dunning, last night said: "We are absolutely delighted that the Scottish Government has decided to review the FAI system. As it stands, the system neither supports bereaved families, nor benefits the public good.

"The findings of FAIs are often not properly enforced because of a lack of central monitoring. The current system means that inquiries can go on for many years, which is distressing for families.

"We hope that the review will lead to a system where bereaved families genuinely feel that lessons are learned and acted upon in a transparent way."

The review is also expected to look at whether FAIs should be held in the deaths of Scots abroad. Several MPs and MSPs have raised concerns the deaths of Scottish servicemen killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are investigated by overworked coroners in the south of England.

Angus Robertson, the SNP's Westminster-based defence spokesman, argued the deaths of 14 personnel from RAF Kinloss in a Nimrod crash in Kandahar, Afghanistan, showed the need for reforms.

Mr Robertson said: "My own concerns stem particularly from the delays in inquiries into service personnel fatalities, of up to five years."

Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth last night appeared sympathetic. He said: "The current system of FAIs in Scotland is preventing us from providing families with what they want: timely inquiries held near where they live."

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