Fatal Accident Inquiry Records
Fatal Accident Inquiry Records
There is no system of coroners' inquests in Scotland unlike England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Accidental, unexpected, unexplained, sudden or suspicious deaths are investigated privately for the local crown agent, an official called the procurator fiscal. Only certain types of death are investigated further at Fatal Accident Inquiries (FAIs).
This guide provides information about the process of reporting and recording these deaths. It covers:
- Information recorded in the Register of Corrected Entries
- Procurator fiscal records
- Fatal Accident Inquiries in general
- Fatal Accident Inquiry records
- Fatal accidents before 1895
- Railway accidents
- Further reading
Deaths must be registered within eight days. In cases of accidental, sudden or suspicious deaths the cause of death may not have been established in that time. An investigation is carried out for the Procurator Fiscal who receives a full report into the death. This is known as a precognition and its findings are noted in the Register of Corrected Entries (now the Register of Corrections Etc (RCE) which is maintained by the Registrar General for Scotland. A cross-reference to the RCE is added in the margin of the related entry in the Statutory Register of Deaths. The information on the RCE page can be very brief. It usually refers to the precognition but these reports are not usually preserved permanently.
Where the RCE makes reference to 'by jury' or 'by a jury' this generally means that a Fatal Accident Inquiry was held. These inquiries have only been held since 1895.
We hold the following Procurator Fiscal Service records (our reference AD for Lord Advocate's Department) which can be consulted in the Historical Search Room:
- records for the Procurator Fiscal Office in Banff were retained as a representative sample (AD17). They consist of:
- registers of information and complaints lodged with the Procurator Fiscal from 1928
- police reports and precognitions for the years 1815-1887 inclusive
- from 1887 to 1967 only those years ending in a 7 were kept as the sample
- from 1971 only years ending in a 1 have been kept as the sample
- procurator fiscal records for Edinburgh from 1870-1896 (AD19)
- case papers for Linlithgow Procurator Fiscal Service for 1971 including papers regarding deaths intimated to the procurator fiscal (AD23/20-57) which are closed for 75 years.
Certain types of death are investigated further at Fatal Accident Inquiries (FAIs). They were introduced into Scotland by the Fatal Accidents Inquiry (Scotland) Act 1895. It 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.
Fatal Accident Inquiries are held to investigate deaths in industrial accidents, in prisons, and deaths where it is felt necessary to hold a public inquiry. They are held relatively rarely and are not used for deaths by suicide or for 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.
Fatal Accident Inquiries take place in local sheriff courts. We hold sheriff court records but 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.
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.
A sensitivity review of FAI records by Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) has now been completed. The overwhelming majority of the 11,500 Sheriff Court FAI records which were temporarily closed in March 2023 as part of the review have now been re-opened and are available to view on our online catalogue. FAI records which remain closed are unavailable to view individually on the catalogue. There are, however, catalogue descriptions at a higher series level for each sheriff court which give basic descriptions and covering dates for FAIs. A table of the Sheriff Court FAI series and the number of closures is available.
For further information on closure of records see the NRS reclosure policy
If you require confirmation NRS hold an individual Sheriff Court fatal accident inquiry which is closed then please ask a member of staff. If you wish to access closed FAI records whilst the closure is current then please see the Freedom of Information (FOI) section.
There are fewer sources for fatal accidents before 1895. The records of the Lord Advocate's Department (our reference AD) include registers of sudden deaths, fatal accident inquiries and accidents in mines, 1848-1935 (AD12).
Records of deaths can also be found in the procedure books (AD9) which list cases passed to the Crown Office, the direction given and how the case was disposed of. The information in these registers is very brief.
If your ancestor died in an accident or in suspicious circumstances prior to 1895 you may find information in a local newspaper. These are held by local libraries, the National Library of Scotland and the British Library in London.
If your ancestor died in a railway accident you may find a record of the death in the series of Annual Returns and Reports on Railway Accidents published by the Ministry of Transport (our reference BR/MT). We hold copies for the years 1854-1856, 1861-1940 and 1947 (BR/MT/S/6/1-132).
The returns and reports are mostly un-indexed and they do not include all railway accidents.
We also hold indexed Official Accident Reports for:
- accidents which occurred on the North British Railway between 1869 and 1897 (BR/MT/S/6/135-6)
- individual accidents which occurred on British Railway (Scottish Region) between 1951 and 1975 (BR/MT/S/6).
Some railway companies also kept their own accident books and these can be found by searching our catalogue for 'accident book' within the BR reference.
Carmichael, Ian H B, 'Sudden deaths and fatal accident inquiries: Scots law and practice' (W Green and Son, 1986)