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Monday 20 October 2014
 
 
 

Fatal Accident Inquiries

Introduction

In Scotland, unlike England, Wales and Northern Ireland, there is no system of Coroner's Inquests, and accidental, unexpected, unexplained, sudden or suspicious deaths are investigated differently.

These deaths are investigated privately for the local Crown Agent, an official called the Procurator Fiscal. The Fiscal will receive a report into the death, and the findings of this report are noted in the 'Register of Corrected Entries' (or RCE) at the General Register Office for Scotland.

This guide has been divided up into the following headings:

RCE
Procurator Fiscal Records
FAI: General
FAI: Records
Fatal Accidents before 1895
Railway Accidents
Points to Remember


RCE
If you find in the margin of a death entry: 'Reg. of Cor. Entries' or 'R.C.E' plus a volume number, page number and a date, this will refer to the Register of Corrected Entries (or after 1965 the Register of Corrections, Etc). This is held and maintained by the General Register Office for Scotland (GROS). For deaths up to 1961 these can be accessed through the ScotlandsPeople website. If an RCE exists there will be a link to the RCE on the page for the death entry.

For the period after 1961 these can be obtained from the GROS directly.

The information in the RCE can be very brief, and may not tell you anything you don't already know. It will refer to a 'Precognition', which is the full report into the death received by the Fiscal. These tend not to be preserved permanently.


Procurator Fiscal Records
The records of the Procurator Fiscal Service are not normally retained by the National Archives of Scotland. However, those for the Procurator Fiscal Office in Banff were retained as a representative sample (NAS ref: AD17). They comprise registers of information and complaints lodged with the Fiscal from 1928, and police reports and precognitions etc. for the years 1815-1887 inclusive. From 1887-1967 only those years ending in a '7' and from 1971 only years ending in a '1' are kept as the sample.

The NAS also holds Procurator Fiscal records for Edinburgh from 1870-1896 (NAS ref: AD19); and case papers for Linlithgow Procurator Fiscal Service for 1971 (which contain papers regarding deaths intimated to the PF, NAS ref: AD23/20-57), which are closed for 75 years. Procurator Fiscal records for Lerwick are held by Shetland Archives.

FAI: General
Certain types of death are also investigated at Fatal Accident Inquiries (or FAIs), which have been held since 1895. They were introduced into Scotland by the Fatal Accidents Inquiry (Scotland) Act 1895, which provided for public inquiries by sheriff and jury, upon petition by the procurator fiscal, into fatal accidents occurring in industrial employment or occupations. It was amended by the Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths Inquiry (Scotland) Act 1906, to include provisions for inquiries into any case of sudden or suspicious death in Scotland in which it appeared that an inquiry should be held. The Fatal Accidents and Sudden Death Inquiry (Scotland) Act, 1976 repealed and replaced both these earlier acts and introduced four major changes: it dispensed with the need for a jury, gave wide powers to the Lord Advocate in relation to such inquiries, brought deaths in prisons and of persons in legal custody into the normal FAI system, and extended the jurisdiction of sheriffs to cover the offshore oil industry.

In short, FAIs are held to investigate deaths in industrial accidents, deaths in prisons, and deaths where it is felt necessary to hold a public enquiry. However, they are held relatively rarely, and are not used for deaths by suicide or the vast majority of road traffic deaths.

If a Fatal Accident Inquiry has taken place this is usually indicated by reference to a jury in the RCE.

FAI: Records

Fatal Accident Inquiries take place in the local sheriff court and the records of these courts are held by the National Archives of Scotland. It is important to remember that not all FAI records have survived and that there are notable gaps for many of the sheriff courts. The missing records are not held elsewhere, they just haven't survived.

Please note that several courts recorded minutes of FAIs in their record of criminal jury trials, and some are to be found in the Ordinary Court act books. Where they have been identified in these records, the names of the deceased and the dates of the inquiry have been added to the catalogue entries of the relevant books. There are often gaps in date ranges and these have not always been noted in the table below. Nearly all of the FAIs held by NAS have now been listed individually (see the table below) and it should be possible to find them by searching by the deceased's name in the NAS' online catalogue.

NAS holds FAI records for the following courts for the following dates:

Sheriff Court Reference Date range Individually Listed?
Aberdeen SC1/16 1930, 1943, 1945-1976 Listed
Airdrie

SC35/4/2-13

SC35/18

1896-1944

1942-1976

Listed

Listed

Alloa

SC64/2/5

SC64/15

1908-1913

1897, 1901, 1917, 1920-1930, 1951-1966

Listed

Listed

Arbroath

SC43/1/1-5

SC43/19

1897-1947

1912, 1918, 1975-1982

Listed

Listed

Ayr SC6/15 1953-1981 Listed
Banff SC2/23 1958, 1960-1983 Listed
Campbeltown

SC50/16

SC50/27/20-21

1956, 1962-1976

1897-1910

Listed

Not Listed

Cromarty SC24/22 1896-1902 Listed
Cupar SC20/42 1961-1978 Listed
Dingwall SC25/15 1901-1923, 1942-1980 Listed
Dornoch SC9/19 1896-1978 Listed
Dumbarton

SC65/25

SC65/25A

SC65/43/6

1898-1908

1896, 1902-1948, 1962-1977

SC65/43/6

Listed

Listed

Listed

Dumfries SC15/27 1895-1921, 1953-1976 Listed
Dunblane

SC44/15

1951-1973 Listed
Dundee

SC45/1/31-39, 54, 71 and 92

SC45/19

1917-1968

1914-1915, 1921-1933, 1947-1984

Listed

Listed

Dunfermline SC21/11 1931 (1 only), 1939-1980 Listed
Dunoon SC51/5 1949, 1954-1970 Listed
Duns SC60/27 1896-1904, 1913-1979 Listed
Edinburgh

SC39/66/62-105

SC39/43

1895-1938

1970-1984

Listed

Listed

Elgin SC26/28 1913-1967 Listed
Falkirk SC66/16 1960-1981 Listed
Fort William (Inverness-shire) SC28/13 1960-1983 Listed
Glasgow SC36/30 1900-1907, 1915 (1 only), 1919-1929, 1948-1983 Listed
Greenock SC53/27 1903-1909, 1961-1981 Listed
Haddington SC40/12 1956-1976 Listed
Hamilton SC37/16 1937, 1953-1983 Listed
Inverness SC29/27 1895-1974 Listed
Jedburgh

SC62/1/19-20

SC62/22

1896-1942

1966-1984

Listed

Listed

Kilmarnock SC7/19 1907-1917, 1931-1979 Listed
Kinross SC22/15 1920-1974 Listed
Kirkcaldy SC23/21 1937-1978 Listed
Kirkcudbright SC16/25 1929-1980 Listed
Kirkwall SC11/7 1900-1969 These are held by Orkney Archives
Lanark SC38/20 1895-1946, 1968-1982 Listed
Linlithgow SC41/13 1909-1982 Listed
Lochmaddy SC30/18 1910-1980 Listed
Nairn SC31/12 1958 (1 only) Listed
Oban SC57/20/2-4

1907, 1950-1981

1895-1948

Listed

Listed

Paisley

SC58/18

SC58/50/23-29

1964, 1969-1981

1895-1909

Listed

Listed

Peebles SC42/12 1913-1915, 1920-1933, 1949, 1953-1968 Listed
Perth

SC49/1/111

SC49/22

1923-1934

1963-1983

Not Listed

Listed

Peterhead SC4/14 1972-1974 Listed
Portree SC32/10 1899-1934, 1959-1980 Listed
Rothesay SC8/22 1919 (1 only) Listed
Selkirk SC63/21 1909-1942, 1968-1983 Listed
Stirling SC67/69 1895-1897, 1950 (1 only), 1953-1971 Listed
Stonehaven SC5/28-29 1913 (1 only), 1917-1970 Listed
Stornoway

SC33/39/4

SC33/13

1897-1954

1936-1968

Not Listed

Listed

Stranraer SC18/21 and 22* 1896-1959 Listed
Tain

SC34/8

 

SC34/15/4

1913, 1915, 1919, 1943-1944, 1972-1983

1895-1928

Listed

Listed

Wick SC14/15 1923-1929, 1940-1983 Listed
Wigtown SC19/27 1895-1946, 1963-1972 Listed

* records in SC18/22 contain extra information for some items in SC18/21

Fatal Accidents before 1895
There are fewer sources for fatal accidents before 1895. The records of the Lord Advocate's Department include registers of sudden deaths, fatal accident inquiries and accidents in mines, 1848-1935 (NAS ref: AD12). Records of deaths can also be found in the procedure books (NAS ref: AD9), which lists cases passed to the Crown Office, direction given and how the case was disposed of. It is worth noting, however, that the information in these registers is very brief and probably will not tell you anything you don't already know.

If you ancestor died in an accident or suspicious circumstances prior to 1895 you may find information in a local newspaper. These are not held by the NAS, but can often be found in local libraries, in the National Library of Scotland and in the British Library in London.

Railway Accidents
If your ancestor died in a railway accident you may find a record of the death in the series of annual Returns and Report on Railway Accidents publish by the Ministry of Transport. NAS holds copies of these for the years 1854-1856, 1861-1940 and 1947 (NAS ref: BR/MT/S/6/1-132). The Returns and Reports are mostly un-indexed and they do not include all railway accidents. NAS also holds indexed Official Accident Reports for accidents which occurred on the North British Railway between 1869-1897 (NAS ref: BR/MT/S/6/135-6) and for individual accidents which occurred on British Railway (Scottish Region) between 1951 and 1975 (NAS ref: BR/MT/S/6). Some railway companies also kept their own accident books and these can be found by searching the NAS online catalogue for 'accident book' within the BR reference.

Points to Remember
  • Fatal Accident Inquiries have only been held since 1895. If you ancestor died prior to 1895, no Fatal Accident Inquiry will have been held.
  • Where the RCE makes reference to 'by jury' or 'by a jury' this generally means a Fatal Accident Inquiry was held. If it doesn't say that, then one was not held.
  • Not all FAI records have survived - check the list above to see if they have survived for the period you are interested in.
  • Most FAI records have been individually listed in the NAS online catalogue - check the catalogue for your ancestor's name if their accidental death does fit in the ranges noted above.
  • Local newspapers may hold information if the death was due to an accident or suicide. Local newspapers can usually be found at local libraries as well as the National Library of Scotland and the British Library in London.
Further reading
Sudden Deaths and Fatal Accident Inquiries: Scots Law and Practice, Ian HB Carmichael (W. Green & Son Ltd, 1986)
   
 
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