National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

The Change, Made in mid-2009, in the Procedure Used by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service to Inform the National Records of Scotland (NRS) About Suicides

The Change, Made in mid-2009, in the Procedure Used by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service to Inform the National Records of Scotland (NRS) About Suicides

This note describes the change, made in mid-2009, in the way in which the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service notifies NRS of deaths which should be counted as being due to suicides. 

Previously, a Procurator Fiscal (PF) who believed that a death was a suicide would submit a report on the case to the Crown Office (CO), which would consider the report, decide whether the death was a suicide and (if appropriate) tell NRS to count it as such. With effect from mid-2009, the procedure was changed, so that not all suicides were required to be reported to the CO. As a result of this, a new arrangement was developed for PFs to notify NRS, for each traumatic or suspicious death reported to a PF whether they believe it was due to (i) accident, (ii) intentional self-harm, (iii) assault, or (iv) undetermined intent, using an amended version of a form which PFs were already routinely sending to NRS. The Notes of Guidance for this state that PFs should specify 'undetermined intent' in cases 'where the evidence is insufficient for the PF to form a view, on the balance of probabilities, as to which of the other categories is appropriate'.

The change has therefore altered the way in which some deaths are classified - ones which the PFs thought were more likely than not to be suicides, but for which there was insufficient evidence for the preparation of 'suicide' reports for the CO. Such deaths would previously have been counted as being due to events of undetermined intent, but now they are likely to be counted as due to intentional self-harm. This changed the balance between the numbers of deaths counted as being due to 'events of undetermined intent' and to 'intentional self-harm'

The change may also have affected the numbers of deaths which are counted as being due to accidents or assault. This is because there may be deaths, which would previously have been counted as being due to events of undetermined intent, which are now counted as being due to accidents or assault because PFs can use the amended form to express their views, on the balance of probabilities, of the nature of these deaths (under the previous arrangements, the PFs might not have told NRS how to count such deaths).

The new procedure was used on a 'pilot' basis by a few PF offices in Spring 2009, before being introduced throughout Scotland for forms which were submitted with effect from 6 July 2009. Because a PF may not be able to provide NRS with a final view until several weeks (or perhaps months) after a death was registered, the new procedure applied for most (but not all) of the traumatic or suspicious deaths registered in 2009 - so the figures for 2009 do not show the effect of using the new procedure on the whole year's data, and may be subject to the effects of 'teething' troubles. It follows that 2010 was the first year for which the new procedure operated for a full year, so (strictly speaking) the figures for 2009 are not directly comparable with those for either 2008 or 2010.

An assessment of the Likely effect of the procedural change suggests that it has had little effect on the overall total number of probable suicides.  

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