Too few pathologists the source of delay in releasing murder victims’ bodies

Scotland needs more pathologists in order to get the bodies of murder victims back to their families sooner, a criminal defence lawyer has said.

A new protocol was announced last week by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service to speed up the release of the bodies of murder victims that have been retained for post-mortem examinations.

Under the new system, a consultation will determine whether a second post-mortem is needed.

Solicitor Iain Jane, however, does not think this measure will speed up the process.

Mr Jane told The Press and Journal: “Some cases really need the second, and in the vast majority of cases it’s asked for anyway as defence agents in murder cases want to represent their client appropriately.

“The main problem is the lack of pathologists – I think there may only be around 10 in Scotland.

“For defence agents who ask for a second post-mortem we get grants to pay for it, but this adds up and it takes a long time to find one free to do it.

“There were 59 homicides in Scotland last year, lower than most years, and I estimate it’s about £30,000 extra they’re paying for these as they have to use someone from England.

“For one of my own cases, a murder in Fraserburgh, we had to pay for a pathologist from Liverpool to carry out the second one as the crown had used Aberdeen and there weren’t any free else where who would be independent.

“To solve the problem, a pathologist simply for second post-mortems should be hired by the Scottish government who can remain independent and also cover holidays of others.

“It would also work out similar cost wise and cut down the time you waste trying to find a pathologist meaning families get their loved ones back sooner.”

Anthony McGeehan, procurator fiscal for policy and engagement, said: “The new protocol endeavours to ensure that post-mortem examinations are only conducted where necessary and loved ones are returned to their family as quickly as possible.

“This promotes the interests of the victims of crime within the criminal justice system whilst preserving potential criminal proceedings and the rights of the accused.”

A Scottish government spokesman said: “We warmly welcome the changes proposed by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Office, which will help to alleviate some of the distress that can be caused by the length of time it sometimes takes to be able to arrange a funeral of a loved one.”