Faculty suggests possible solution to delays in defence post-mortems
A new system of instructing second post-mortem examinations of homicide victims has been put forward by the Faculty of Advocates, in an attempt to ease the grief of bereaved families.
Under the suggested scheme, a panel of forensic pathologists would be available to perform defence post-mortems within a maximum of 28 days after a Crown examination.
Gil Paterson, MSP for Clydebank and Milngavie, is consulting on a proposed bill which, to curb delays and uncertainty for families, would introduce a time limit on the instructing of defence post-mortems. As a “starting-point for discussion”, he has suggested 14 days, with a possible extension of another 14 days.
In a response, the Faculty said it was sympathetic to the issue which the bill sought to redress, but felt it did not address the “real issues” which caused delay in defence post-mortems.
“The view of Faculty, based on experience, is that delayed instruction of defence post-mortems is a direct result of a dearth of forensic pathologists available and willing to accept instructions to carry them out and prepare reports,” stated the Faculty.
“Solicitors and Counsel are sensitive to the fact that the body of the deceased cannot be released until a defence post-mortem has been carried out. However, they are impotent in addressing this issue due to the lack of availability of suitable, qualified forensic pathologists.”
Forensic pathologists were generally overworked, and contracted to give priority to the police and the Crown, the Faculty added. Defence solicitors regularly had to seek and instruct pathologists from outside Scotland.
“Faculty observe that the solution may lie in a system where, upon completion of the Crown post-mortem, a defence post-mortem is instructed from a panel of forensic pathologists overseen by their professional body, the Royal College of Forensic Pathologists (RCFP), irrespective of whether a suspect has been identified or not. This suggestion would require liaison with the Fellows of the RCFP in order that they can indicate whether a panel of the type suggested is feasible.
“The instruction could emanate from the court if there is no suspect…the question of whether the court or SLAB (Scottish Legal Aid Board) bears the funding would require to be resolved.”
In relation to time limits, the Faculty said that if a suspect had been identified, then the defence post-mortem should take place within 21 days of the Crown post-mortem. If no suspect had been identified, it should be 28 days “and the body could be released thereafter, avoiding the prolonged detention of bodies when no suspect has been identified and thus no second post-mortem can be instructed”.