‘Following a fatal accident at work, the Scottish Fatalities Investigation Unit (SFIU) who are a specialist unit of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), must undertake a detailed investigation into the circumstances of the death. As part of their investigations the SFIU are required to gather evidence, take statements and obtain expert reports where necessary. Once investigations are completed a decision is then to be made on how to proceed including whether criminal charges should be brought or if a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) should be held. This decision is made by Crown Counsel (Lord Advocate, Solicitor General and Advocates Depute) who consider the investigations undertaken by the SFIU as well as a report with recommendations issued by the procurator fiscal who carried out the SFIU investigation.
Nearly sixteen months on from Clive Hendry’s death no such decision has been made and their bereaved life partner, Catriona Lockhart has been advised from the SFIU that investigations remain ongoing. There is presently no certainty on whether there will be prosecutions brought against Mowi Scotland for clear failures resulting in Clive’s tragic death, as identified in a Marine Accident Investigation Brach (MAIB) report. With a timescale for the decision uncertain, it is also worth appreciating that even once a decision is made, there will then be a further period of waiting for a trial date or FAI to be fixed, which further extends the length of time before matters are concluded.
It is widely acknowledged by the Scottish Government that bereaved relatives are entitled to expect a thorough, prompt and professional investigation into a death of a loved one. Similarly it is acknowledged that if such an investigation is protracted this will undermine public confidence in the Crown Office and Prosecution Service and potentially also Fatal Accident Inquiries themselves.
It has been several years since the Inquiries into Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths etc. (Scotland) Act 2016, came into force which was designed to revamp and bring Fatal Accident Inquiries into the “21st Century” in a way that would very much put the bereaved relatives at the heart of the process and indeed there has been some substantial progress made following the new legislation. However, as a solicitor representing bereaved families, it is my experience that the protracted nature of these investigations and the length of time it takes for a decision to be reached, such as is the case here, is something that is all too often encountered.
The longer it takes for a decision to be made, the longer those who have lost loved ones are left waiting for clarity and justice and closure. Furthermore it is important to highlight the emotional toil that waiting years for such a decision. This only prolongs suffering of those who have lost a loved ones in such sudden and tragic circumstances and whilst nobody would want there to be a situation where crucial decisions like these are to be made without a full and thorough investigation, it is true to say that urgency should very much be at the forefront of the process.’
Blog by Joel Shaw, Associate