LAWYERS say extra resources are needed to help speed up Fatal Accident Inquiry investigations to prevent bereaved families from being left in limbo.

The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) say they are concerned that fatal accident investigations are taking too long, and while new legislation will speed up things in some cases, more is required to make it work.

The Scottish Government has already confirmed planned legislation over how FAIs are conducted will not speed up decisions when a criminal investigation has been launched.

Proposals surfaced after relatives complained they have been upset by the process of FAIs.

The Government consultation over an FAI shake-up comes a year after a Member's Bill that sought to speed up the system in the wake of criticism over delays in establishing whether there will be inquiries into major incidents. In Scotland, an FAI is not instructed until a decision has been made whether to proceed with a criminal case.

Official data reveals that FAIs in Scotland are taking up to three years to start, even when criminal investigations are not active.

When criminal investigations are being conducted, FAIs can take up to six years to establish.

In one of the worst cases, the families of three men who died after the Flying Phantom tug boat capsized on the River Clyde have waited more than six years for a decision on whether there will be an FAI, which seeks to find lessons to be learned from fatalities, while proceedings are continuing.

Gordon Dalyell, Scotland representative of APIL, said problems lie with huge delays before the matter gets as far as an inquiry.

"Not only do delays make a difficult time drag on for the deceased's family, who deserve answers, it also means that any safety failings which could have led to the death are left unaddressed and remain to put others at risk," he said.

"There needs to be additional resource at the Health and Safety Executive and the Crown Office so they can carry out investigations and come to decisions quicker."

APIL supported proposals to introduce preliminary hearings to help speed up FAIs. It said that would enable administrative and practical matters to be dealt with, and allow the procurator fiscal (PF) to focus purely on the circumstances of the death at the FAI.

It also said FAIs would be speeded up by plans to have written signed statements provided to the sheriff in advance of the FAI, reflecting the practice of coroners' inquests in England and Wales.

But it also said the criminal investigations could not be seen a suitable substitute for FAIs.

Thompsons Scotland, the legal firm that has represented a series of bereaved families, has said any conflict with criminal issues can be avoided by taking a leaf out the English Coroner's Court process, where an inquiry can be opened and then adjourned, if deemed necessary. Any inquiry started while the prosecution process is continuing could then consider matters that will not be before the criminal courts.

There are 50 to 70 FAIs a year but more than 13,000 deaths are reported to procurators fiscal annually. The Lord Advocate issued guidance to procurators fiscal last December that a petition should be made to the relevant court within two months of receiving crown instruction to hold an FAI.

The Crown Office says it has implemented all six recommendations made by Lord Cullen, who carried out a review of the FAI system in 2009. They include establishing a central FAI team led by an advocate depute or a senior prosecutor, which will oversee and track progress over all cases in which an FAI is mandatory or is likely to be recommended.