Page last updated at 17:21 GMT, Thursday, 22 January 2009

Welcome for MoD inquest proposals

The body of Sergeant John Manuel of 45 Commando Royal Marines in Arbroath, Scotland being repatriated at RAF Lyneham, Wiltshire.
The bodies of all British soldiers killed abroad are currently repatriated to England

The Scottish Government has welcomed Whitehall proposals which could see inquests into military personnel killed abroad being held in Scotland.

The plans would see Fatal Accident Inquiries held into Scottish personnel killed on active service abroad.

All such inquests are currently carried out by English coroners.

The move would require an amendment to a new bill published this week in the Commons, and would also require a minor change to the law at Holyrood.

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said there were still some issues to be addressed, but he has written to UK Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth to invite him to a meeting to discuss how they could be resolved.

'Important issues'

He added: "The Scottish Government have been working for some time with the UK Government to try and resolve this complicated but important issue for service personnel and their families.

"I now believe that these latest proposals from the UK armed forces minister, which are similar to the ones that were included in a letter from me to the previous armed forces minister, could provide a system that could result in the inquests into the deaths abroad of Scottish-based service personnel being dealt with in Scotland, when appropriate.

"I have today written to Bob Ainsworth to invite him to a meeting to try and resolve the outstanding issues.

"The Scottish Government is well aware of the sensitivities around this issue for service families and we are determined to reach a solution as soon as possible."

Under the UK Government's proposals, the secretary of state would, if the body of a Scottish serviceman or woman was still outside the UK and if relatives consented, ask the Lord Advocate to hold an FAI into the death.

For decades service families in Scotland have been overlooked but this is changing
Shona Beattie

The body could then be repatriated to Scotland, where the FAI would be carried out.

However, the proposals stopped short of a total transfer of powers to Holyrood.

Responding to Mr MacAskill's letter, Mr Ainsworth said: "My priority has consistently been to provide the best possible support to bereaved families, and I am pleased that Kenny MacAskill has, on this occasion, responded so promptly to the proposals in my letter.

"I will look at his proposals quickly. The inability to hold fatal accident inquiries into the deaths of service personnel killed on operations is an issue we want to resolve quickly."

The relatives of some Scottish servicemen killed in Iraq or Afghanistan have criticised the extra strain of having to travel long distances to attend often lengthy inquests in England.

The progress in discussions between the two governments was welcomed by Shona Beattie, whose husband Flight Sergeant Stephen Beattie died when an RAF Nimrod crashed in Afghanistan in 2006.

She said: "For decades service families in Scotland have been overlooked but this is changing. It is now time for the Scots legal system to play its role investigating overseas military deaths.

"Hopefully in the weeks ahead the last technical issues can be ironed out.

"I am appreciative of the efforts made by Angus Robertson MP and Scottish Ministers who pushed for these changes. They will make a real difference to service families in Scotland."

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