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Chamber and committees

Question ref. S6W-03841
Asked by: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats
Date lodged: 19 October 2021


To ask the Scottish Government what consideration it has given to the findings in the report, Nothing To See Here?, regarding disparities between Sheriffdoms in making findings relating to fatal accident inquiries into deaths in custody, and what its position is on what this means for the current system’s ability to scrutinise deaths in custody.

Current status: Answered by Keith Brown on 16 November 2021


Determinations by Sheriffs are a matter of judicial independence and it would not be appropriate for Scottish Government to comment on specific determinations or the approach of the judiciary in general. The Sheriff has heard the evidence and is the only one in a position to decide if recommendations are necessary. In individual cases, the Sheriff may conclude, given the particular circumstances, that no recommendation should be made.

Whilst statistical data in this report points to differences between Sheriffdoms in the rate of making findings, the report noted that ‘The numbers here are too small to assess statistical significance and therefore qualitative investigation will be a priority of future research.’

We welcome this future research and will give consideration to the findings.

As a Government, we take deaths in custody very seriously, which is why the former Cabinet Secretary for Justice asked the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland to undertake two independent reviews on deaths in custody.

Fatal Accident Inquiries play a significant role in ensuring there are systems to safeguard and protect those held in legal custody. However, they are just one part of the system for scrutinising deaths in custody. In addition, the prison service, with the NHS and other relevant organisations, carry out a Death in Prison Learning Audit and Review meeting normally within 12 weeks of all deaths in custody. This provides a system for recording any learning and identified actions from individual incidents.