Previous Failures Ignored in Death Assignment Changes


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, formerly the General Register of Scotland (GROS), 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, to reduce the PFs’ workload. Now, PFs do not prepare those reports for the CO, instead, they simply tell NRS, for each traumatic or suspicious death, 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’