Scotland may get power to examine overseas military deaths


SCOTTISH soldiers killed abroad could have the investigations into their deaths held in Scotland rather than the south of England, in the first transfer of powers from Westminster to Holyrood after the Scottish elections.

Ministers have signalled that they will allow investigations into Scots soldiers' deaths abroad to be held under the Scottish system of fatal accident inquiries (FAIs) rather than English inquests, if the Scottish Parliament wants to change its law to assume the powers.

The move will be welcomed by service personnel families north of the Border, for whom the expense and inconvenience of travelling long distances for inquests has compounded their grief.

They have campaigned for inquests to be held closer to home - but the law governing Scotland's FAIs does not give sheriffs powers to look into cases of those killed abroad.

Yesterday, Westminster acknowledged that the Executive could amend the law to hold its own inquests and relieve pressure on the system.

The move is all the more likely now that the Nationalists hold the most seats in the Scottish Parliament.

At Westminster, both the SNP and Liberal Democrats put pressure on Adam Ingram, the armed forces minister, over the delays in inquests.

Angus Robertson, the SNP's defence spokesman, asked Mr Ingram to "work with the incoming Scottish Executive to find a solution so inquiries can take place under Scots law, which would surely be of assistance in reducing the inquiries backlog and ease the inconvenience to families".

Danny Alexander, the Lib Dem MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, said it was unacceptable that families had had to wait three to five years for an investigation on how their loved ones died in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"This is compounded, for many bereaved families, by the real inconvenience of travel to Wiltshire for the inquest," he told MPs.

Mr Ingram agreed there had been unacceptable delays in dealing with inquests. He also signalled that Holyrood could have its way over the location of future investigations into military deaths.

"I would always work with any administration in any part of the United Kingdom," he said under questioning from MPs about the location of inquests.

"My understanding is that it needs a change in primary legislation and we need to look at all of this, but if there is a will to change in Scotland, let's hear what the propositions are."

Mr Robertson later hailed Mr Ingram's response as a "victory for common sense" and promised to lobby the Executive.

Powers governing FAIs are already devolved and the move would require a change in Scots law.

One of the differences with the FAI system compared with inquests is that it looks to establish the facts, rather than ascribe fault.

However, supporters of more powers for FAIs point to the findings of the law officer who investigated the catastrophic 1994 Chinook helicopter crash in the Mull of Kintyre.

Iain Henderson, the then procurator-fiscal, accused the Ministry of Defence of trying to hold up the FAI by 18 months by falsely blaming the accident on "pilot error".

In Scotland, the procurator-fiscal assumes the role of a judge for FAIs.

Such a move of powers of inquiry could ease some of the inconvenience for families such as that of the late Lance Corporal Allan Douglas, a 22-year-old serving with the Highlanders who was killed by a sniper in Iraq in January 2006.

His parents, Walter and Diane Douglas, had to travel from Aberdeen to Oxfordshire for the inquest, which had to be adjourned at their request after insufficient evidence was brought forward.

The family of the late Jason Smith, a private in the Territorial Army from Hawick, has also been unhappy with the inquest and Board of Inquiry report into their son's death.

But Jocelyn Cockburn, of Hodge Jones & Allen, solicitor for his mother Catherine Smith, warned that simply moving the investigations north of the Border may not be the solution for making the system more transparent.

"There are some benefits to the Scottish system over the English system," she said. "However, I understand that a fatal accident inquiry is held only in certain narrow circumstances and not always in public.

"It would be a disaster, for instance, if this meant that Scottish families had even less access to the death investigation process than they do already."

She added that there would also be questions about what powers Scottish courts would have to order the attendance of witnesses or make recommendations to the Ministry of Defence.

"Although it is inconvenient for families to travel to England, in my experience this is a minute concern compared to their need to have a thorough independent inquiry to find out what happened."


War Hero
Just a quick one on this. Why are the deaths of servicemen KIA dealt with as FAI's? At what point does the shooting of an individual by a sniper become an accident? Just one more crock of sh*t for the toerags in Parliament to hide behind!


Agreed, Oldbaldy. The Mull incident is the classic example. The MoD were exposed as lying ******** by the Sheriff, who asked very pointed questions about issues that MoD had tried to hide.
bakersfield said:
Agreed, Oldbaldy. The Mull incident is the classic example. The MoD were exposed as lying ******** by the Sheriff, who asked very pointed questions about issues that MoD had tried to hide.
Hmm, don't forget that the House of Lords eventually agreed with the RAF's findings; casting the Sherriff's judgements into doubt. Also, the Sherriff at the MofK Chinook FAI apparently had to have the workings of a magnetic compass explained to him. So, he was well qualified to pass judgement of the technical details that were just a teensy bit more complex than 'the needle points to Magnetic North' then...
Anything that removes the appalling logjam at Oxford (and, possibly, Wiltshire now) has got to be worth considering. That said, some families are nwever going to be happy with the truth - which is sometimes simply that no-one is to blame for their loss.

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