Chapter 8 Diversity Issues
The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service on its Intranet has a range of Diversity Guidance for staff, including a comprehensive "Cultural Awareness Guide" and guidance on various Faith Groups. These include Muslims, Sikhs and Jews with links to the Scottish Ethnic Minorities Directory produced by Positive Action in Housing in Glasgow and The Scottish Interfaith Council. It is designed to assist Procurators Fiscal in progressing the Departmental strategy of liaison and engaging with local community groups and should be of assistance to Area Diversity Teams (an outreach initiative) when dealing with race, cultural and religious matters.
The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service's own guidance highlights for Muslims the requirement to bury a body as quickly as possible usually within 24 hours. Procurators Fiscal are advised that because of Islamic law and beliefs a delay in burial and/or post mortem can be deeply distressing for a bereaved family. In the context of organ retention it is stressed that only what is absolutely necessary will be done at post mortem and that where possible all the organs will be replaced to be buried with the body. Other detail is given including advice that cremation is forbidden under Islamic law.
For Sikhs information is given that post mortems are not liked but accepted if for legal reasons. Advice is given that all Sikhs are cremated, not buried, and the family will wish access to the body for washing etc. Very young babies may, however, be buried if they die at birth or very soon thereafter.
For the Jewish community advice is given to Procurators Fiscal that no mutilation (ie post mortem) of the body is allowed unless there is a legal requirement for a post mortem and that delay causes particular distress. Cremation is forbidden and ideally, as with those of the Muslim faith, it is considered disrespectful to delay burial which should take place within 24 hours.
"The Jewish religion places great importance on proper respect being given to the body of a deceased person."
Advice is also given in respect of the Chinese, Buddhist, Hindu cultures and faiths and in respect of the travelling community.
Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is to be commended on the easy availability of such useful information and advice to staff on cultural issues.
The Lord Advocate has also issued guidelines to the Police on the reporting of racist crimes which include instructions regarding assessment of language needs and cultural sensitivities and in particular that the Procurator Fiscal should be advised of both the ethnic and religious background of any individual and any requirement for interpreting services.
In death cases where there is an associated crime report instructions have been given by the Lord Advocate to the Police that the Procurator Fiscal should be advised of the involvement and identity of the Police Family Liaison Officer if one has been appointed (normal in homicide cases).
The Police are advised that the deceased may have an extended family or partner to whom relevant information will require to be communicated. The death report submitted to the Procurator Fiscal should clearly identify the nearest relative and any other appropriate individuals to whom communication should be directed. The need for interpretation or translation services for any such person should be clearly identified in the report and should specify a particular dialect where relevant.
In particular the Police are advised that where it appears that the deceased's family may have specific cultural or religious needs the death report and associated criminal report should clearly specify both their ethnic and religious background to ensure that liaison can take place in a manner which is sensitive to their cultural and religious needs.
"Post mortem was against my mother's religion."
On the question of Police reporting the death of someone from the ethnic minority community, where there is not an associated crime report, it is not compulsory for the Police report to include details of religion or other cultural matters although in practice this is usually done. For consistency we recommend that the Lord Advocate's guidelines be amended to include an instruction to the Police to include this information in all death reports not just those with an associated criminal case. Advice from the Police would tend to indicate that this would be relatively easy to do by creating a mandatory "field" in the standard death report submitted by the Police to the Procurator Fiscal.
The guidance available for staff is as stated comprehensive but in the event of difficulty staff are invited to contact members of the Crown Office Diversity Team and this does on occasions occur especially where advice is sought on particular racial charges, acceptance of pleas or issue of warning letters.
So far as translation of correspondence is concerned the Crown Office Book of Regulations instructs that if it is known that a victim or bereaved relative's first language is not English Procurators Fiscal will require to arrange the translation of all the routine and case progress information which is normally issued in the course of an investigation and prosecution.
If the situation is unclear Procurators Fiscal are advised to use a specially designed docquet to be attached to all first correspondence which contains a translation into 30 common ethnic minority languages of an offer to translate the material attached to it if required. This docquet also recognises the need to make information available in other formats such as large print, audio or Braille and that the need for these formats applies equally to members of the ethnic minority communities.
Special mention should also be made in this context of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service's Equality Advisory Group whose remit is "To provide expert advice to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service on:
- the impact or likely impact of the existing and future policies on equality issues
- racial, religious and cultural issues which arise in criminal cases and in particular the likely liaison needs of bereaved relatives from a minority ethnic or religious community." (currently under review to cover diversity more generally).
Procurators Fiscal are encouraged to refer any such issues to the Equality Advisory Group and a template has been created to facilitate such referrals. Additionally Crown Office policy staff will routinely refer policy issues/changes to the Group for their input. The new Chapter 12 was referred to the Group for comments.
As part of our ongoing office inspection programme we look at (among other things) how individual Procurator Fiscal Offices have dealt with any death where racial or cultural issues are involved. To date 34 such inspections have taken place. Individual case papers relating to such deaths are examined covering a 12 month period. Our examination of individual case papers also included some with a cultural or religious background and some of the feedback from our questionnaires (reported at Chapter 4) refers to these.
In Aberdeen five such death cases were examined by us.
In one case the family who were Muslim did not wish a post mortem to take place and having considered the position the Procurator Fiscal decided that a post mortem was not necessary and the family's wishes were taken into account in coming to that decision.
In another case an Asian man died as a result of a road traffic collision which was investigated and reported to Crown Office for Crown Counsel's instructions which were to take no proceedings. The Victim Information and Advice Division ( VIA) were advised of the death and the family were contacted (in India) through the medium of the Police.
In a third road traffic death Crown Counsel again instructed no proceedings on the basis of the facts of the case but the nearest relative who was the father had ongoing correspondence with the Fiscal's Office regarding his daughter's death and was being given information as necessary.
In another case again involving a road traffic collision the body of the deceased was returned back to his country of origin and the Procurator Fiscal facilitated the return.
Finally in a death involving a young Asian woman where there were allegations of medical mishap a Fatal Accident Inquiry took place and an interpreter was provided for the deceased's father during the Fatal Accident Inquiry hearing.
In all these cases it would appear that the guidelines were followed and that the families' wishes were wherever possible taken into account so far as consistent with the obligations of the Procurator Fiscal.
In Airdrie one death in particular was looked at involving a person from a minority ethnic background. Policy was complied with and indeed it was an example of good practice in how to deal with the nearest relative, involving a member of the legal staff and a seconded worker going out of their way to provide an excellent service to the family of the deceased.
In Arbroath two cases were looked at. In one a death from natural causes involved correspondence between the District Fiscal and the relatives, the Consulate and the travel insurers, the Procurator Fiscal again facilitating matters for the family.
The other was a much more dramatic case involving a murder. The file showed that the Police had originally arranged for the family to travel to Scotland and the District Fiscal offered to speak with the relatives (this was in fact declined). The Procurator Fiscal had been in touch with the Consulate through the Embassy and there was ongoing contact with the family through the Police Family Liaison Officer and also a member of the Procurator Fiscal staff at Dundee where the case was to be tried. Interpreters had been arranged. The case did raise questions of travel expenses for overseas bereaved relatives and in this particular case a fund was created by the locals for the family to attend the trial. However, since April 2006 Victim Information and Advice are authorised to make expenditure in such cases.
In Dumfries there were no actual deaths reported within the relevant period at the time of our inspection. However, a local arrangement has been made by the Fiscal for undertakers to be able to contact the on-call Fiscal to deal with any out of hours deaths relating to any minority religious or faith group. We see this as an example of good practice and we would recommend its use elsewhere.
In Dundee five cases were inspected by us.
In one the family were strongly opposed to a post mortem and the Procurator Fiscal arranged for a "view and grant" (ie no dissection took place) procedure to be followed. The body was released on the same day so that the family could return it to Pakistan.
In another, although there were no actual cultural issues involved, the release of the body for burial abroad was expedited.
"The Procurator Fiscal was very understanding of the extremely distressing circumstances. He accelerated the post mortem to the best of his ability. At our subsequent meeting he was very informative and helpful."
In a further death the family did not object to a post mortem but wanted the body released as soon as possible and the post mortem was instructed, performed, the death certificate issued and the body released all on the same day.
In another case involving a fire the family did not wish a post mortem. However, in order to ascertain the true facts a post mortem was required and a two doctor post mortem was in fact carried out. This in the circumstances was of course the correct decision. This illustrates the need for proper enquiry to prevail in the event of a clash of interests.
In a final case where there were allegations of criminality a two doctor post mortem was instructed but the family were kept advised of the situation.
In Dunfermline one case was examined in detail. The family did not wish a post mortem to be carried out and also requested a burial as soon as possible. However, the family GP was not prepared to issue a death certificate so given the circumstances the Procurator Fiscal approached a pathologist at Dundee University and a death certificate was issued after examination of the medical records of the deceased and an external non-invasive examination of the body by one of the pathologists. This enabled the body to be released on the same day. The family asked the Police to pass on their gratitude to the Procurator Fiscal in expediting this matter.
In Edinburgh we examined one case involving the death of a Jewish woman and as previously stated there was a requirement that she should be buried without a post mortem dissection by her faith. These wishes were considered and again the "view and grant" procedure was followed there being no actual dissection and the deceased's body was released for burial the same day.
In the Glasgow Procurator Fiscal's Office there are 4 Divisions but the investigation of deaths is carried out by a central Deaths Unit. The Deaths Unit in Glasgow, given the size of the local community it serves, regularly deals with routine deaths where representations are made regarding the holding and timing of post mortems due to religious considerations and every effort is made by staff to accommodate such considerations where possible.
"We would ask you to be mindful of the added distress that every extra delay in the release of the body would cause."
In particular the office has the services of a secondee from the West of Scotland Racial Equality Council and there had been discussions on the sensitive handling of such deaths. Staff in the Deaths Unit at the time of inspection seemed to be well aware of the concern and impact deaths procedures could have on the minority ethnic communities.
The Hamilton office similarly had a centralised Deaths Unit and at the time of inspection had a number of child and infant deaths where one or both parents were from an ethnic minority. One case was the death of a baby from a Muslim family, both parents being from an ethnic minority, and the mother not speaking any English. The Police had arranged for a Liaison Officer who spoke Punjabi to liaise initially with the family. The Crown Office leaflet "Advice for Bereaved Relatives" was translated by this Punjabi speaking Liaison Officer as it was impossible in the timescale available to have it translated into Punjabi. A post mortem was quickly arranged and the body released so that Muslim burial practices and observances could be met.
At the time of our visit to Hamilton the office was preparing for a Fatal Accident Inquiry which has now taken place into the death of an Asylum Seeker at Dungavel Immigration Centre.
A Police Liaison Officer had been appointed both in London (where the fiancée lived) and also in Hamilton. The Procurator Fiscal had communicated with the family through the Police Liaison Officer and it was realised that interpreters would be required. It was also realised that court documents would require translation.
At the time of the inspection the Depute in charge of the Deaths Unit was intending to meet with the nearest relatives before the inquiry commenced to explain procedures to them.
At Inverness we examined two deaths where there were faith or cultural issues. The deaths concerned two Jewish men killed as a result of a road traffic collision. The Procurator Fiscal at Inverness had arranged for early post mortems to allow the bodies to be released as soon as possible for Jewish burial. The Rabbi had later telephoned the Procurator Fiscal's Office to convey his thanks for the way matters had been dealt with and expressed much appreciation of this.
"In a case where this (a post mortem) is fundamentally required by the law of the land an exception can be made."
In general it can be seen that the Department has moved considerably from the low watermark of the investigation of the death of Surjit Singh Chhokar. Ethnic, cultural, religious and faith issues are now taken into account in investigating deaths and, where possible, families' wishes complied with. In the event however of a conflict the needs of the law and proper investigation of deaths has to be paramount but wherever possible the wishes of the family do appear to be taken into consideration.
It is noticeable in the returns to our questionnaires arising from an examination of 400 individual deaths there were no respondents who complained of a lack of sensitivity in this area.