Ministry of Justice
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Reforms to Coroners and Justice bill address the needs of Scotland based service families

Reforms to Coroners and Justice bill address the needs of Scotland based service families

MINISTRY OF JUSTICE News Release (036/09) issued by COI News Distribution Service. 17 March 2009

Families of Scottish service personnel killed abroad will no longer have to travel to England to attend their loved one's inquests under proposed amendments to the coroners system, Justice Minister Bridget Prentice said today.

Currently, the bodies of Scotland based service personnel killed abroad are returned to England so that a coroner can investigate the circumstances surrounding the death. This is because there is currently no legislative basis under Scottish law for the Lord Advocate to investigate deaths outside of Scotland and requires the bereaved families to travel to England for inquests.

Bridget Prentice Justice Minister said:

"We have listened to service families in Scotland and have responded with these amendments which will allow the coroner systems in England and Wales and Fatal Accident Inquiry system in Scotland, to be more responsive to families' circumstances. These changes will mean that in most cases the next of kin will no longer have to travel to England for inquests."

"It is important that we make bereaved service families our top priority during what is an extremely difficult time, and try to do everything in our power that will remove or reduce any unnecessary distress involved."
The amendments will allow fatal accident inquiries to take place, when appropriate, in Scotland into the deaths of service personnel who are killed on operations or exercises overseas.

Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth said;

"Our priority has always been to provide the best possible support to bereaved families. Holding inquiries in Scotland for Service personnel killed on overseas operations will be a great help to Scottish Service families at what already is a difficult time. Families which have suffered the tragedy of losing a loved one should, if possible, have access to a full investigation close to home.

The Scotland Minister Ann McKechin said:

"At all stages throughout this process we have had the interests of families who lose loved ones in mind. It simply makes sense to make sure those who have suffered and sacrificed so much for the UK are spared the need to travel hundreds of miles to inquest hearings. Changing the law through this Bill means minimising distress to the families of Scottish service personnel who lose their lives overseas and it is the right thing to do. It shows the UK Government responding to the needs of families in an effective way and I believe it will be welcomed across Scotland and the UK."

The Coroners and Justice Bill is currently before Parliament and is expected to receive Royal Assent towards the end of the year. These changes will come into effect as soon as possible after that.

Notes to Editors

1. The proposed amendments to the Coroners and Justice Bill outlined in this media release were tabled in Parliament on Tuesday 17th March in the late evening.

2. The proposed amendments will enable Fatal Accident Inquires to be held in Scotland for:

a. Service personnel who are killed in operational theatres (other than from natural causes;

b. Associated personnel (e.g. contractors, civil servants, embedded journalists) in operational theatres;

c. Service personnel embarked in HM Ships/Royal Fleet Auxiliary

d. Service personnel on overseas exercises

3. The amendments to the Bill will enable the following process for the above personnel:

a. If a body is still outside the UK, the Secretary of State (for Defence) may seek the agreement of the Lord Advocate to hold a FAI into the death (this will follow consultation with the next of kin).

b. If the Lord Advocate agrees to hold the FAI the body will if possible be repatriated (direct) to Scotland;

c. If the body has already been repatriated to England and Wales the Chief Coroner (the new position which the Bill creates) may - following consultation with the next of kin - seek the agreement of the Lord Advocate to hold an FAI into the death.

d. If the Lord Advocate agrees to hold the FAI, the Chief Coroner will direct the relevant coroner to suspend their investigation and transfer the body into Scottish jurisdiction.

4. There may be some instances where deaths will be investigated by a Coroner in England, even though the family is based in Scotland. An example would be the investigation of an incident involving several deaths, where the majority of families were based in England.

5. We are also tabling an amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill which will amend the Coroners Act (Northern Ireland) 1959 to bring the law in Northern Ireland into line with that in England and Wales, by enabling the coroner there to conduct an investigation where a body lies in Northern Ireland, irrespective of where the death took place. Northern Ireland, like England, has an inquest and coroner system. However under the law as it currently stands it is not possible for the coroner there to conduct an inquest into a death that occurred outside of Northern Ireland.