Review of Sudden Deaths and Fatal Accident Inquiries, 3rd ed (Carmichael)

Those appearing in fatal accident inquiries will be familiar with the first and second editions of this extremely useful manual. The third edition addresses developments to procedural and substantive issues occurring since 1993.

The author’s background in the procurator fiscal service is evident in the detailed description of and practical information about what happens during an FAI. The benefits of this to solicitors at every level of experience, and also to expert witnesses who may be involved in the preparation for and/or conduct of an inquiry, are considerable. In his preface to the first edition the author indicated an intention to bridge the gap between legal and scientific or medical disciplines. He does so by combining a straightforward approach to otherwise complex legal issues with a chapter devoted to relevant “Medical matters”.

A significant element of new material relates to an exploration of the current and potential impact of human rights legislation and jurisprudence on this aspect of public law. In particular, the author addresses the difficulties experienced by relatives of the deceased in obtaining legal aid for representation at an inquiry. Judicial opinion appears to suggest that the current restrictions could constitute a breach of article 2 of the ECHR. The author has inserted a chapter dealing principally with the relationship between article 2 and the FAI as a mechanism for the investigation of deaths involving those acting on behalf of the state.

Otherwise, and on a rather more pragmatic level, the entire text relating to procedure has been updated to reflect the provisions of the Ordinary Cause Rules 1993. The most significant innovation introduced as an indirect result of these rules is the preliminary hearing, which is now mandatory within the Sheriffdom of Glasgow and Strathkelvin and discretionary within the Sheriffdom of Lothian and Borders. These preliminary hearings serve a function similar to that of an options hearing in an ordinary cause action, and the author enthusiastically commends their introduction in the interests of justice insofar as they allow those involved some advance notice of the scope of the inquiry while dealing with practical issues such as the duration of the final hearing.

The chapter dealing with sudden deaths in the European Community has been dropped from the current edition. The author attributes this to the recent influx of member states, making this exercise in comparative law considerably more unwieldy than was originally anticipated.

The author’s discussion of “Significant Inquiries” terminates rather disappointingly in 1988. While an entire chapter is devoted to the Lockerbie inquiry and there is some mention of more recent authority within the concluding section on “Developments and Comments”, the abrupt conclusion of this undoubtedly useful source of reference does appear to be a missed opportunity to illustrate practical developments in this constantly evolving area of law.

However, this is the sole criticism of what should be regarded as a vital source of information and guidance to any professional involved in an inquiry of this type.

Joy Geekie, Simpson & Marwick

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