Alex Salmond inquiry: Increasing pressure on government to reveal legal advice
The Scottish Government is facing mounting pressure to reveal the legal advice it received that saw it mount an expensive, and ultimately unsuccessful, defence of its handling of harassment complaints against former first minister Alex Salmond.
MSPs will today consider a motion brought by the Scottish Conservatives to demand the advice be made public. The debate will come just a day after a tranche of emails from Mr Salmond’s lawyers were published, showing their case for why they believed the government's actions were unlawful and offering arbitration before the case got to court.
Mr Salmond was awarded more than £500,000 after judges in the Court of Session agreed the government’s actions during the investigation had been "unlawful" and were also “tainted with bias". Opposition MSPs believe the total cost to the taxpayer to be around £1 million.
While the former first minister's lawyers' emails have been published by the Scottish Parliament committee that is investigating how the government botched its handling of the complaints against Mr Salmond, the Scottish Government's own legal advice remains secret. Deputy First Minister John Swinney has said it would not be in the “public interest” to waive the Scottish Government’s right to legal privilege to share the information about the civil court case.
MSPs will now debate the Tory motion, which would see the Parliament call “on the Scottish Government to publish all the legal advice it received regarding the Salmond judicial review.
Scots Tory MSP Murdo Fraser, who sits on the Salmond inquiry, said the new evidence in Mr Salmond's lawyers' emails made it even more vital the government advice was published.
He pointed to a claim that an old allegation against Mr Salmond had been “dealt with" by the Scottish Government while Nicola Sturgeon was Deputy First Minister, which raised the “serious question” of whether Ms Sturgeon "can credibly claim to have not known anything” about Mr Salmond’s alleged behaviour.
He said: “Crucially, these legal papers from Alex Salmond only tell us one side of the story. The Scottish Government won’t release so many key documents, particularly the legal advice they received, that we’re still in the dark about the scale of their mistakes."
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie, who also sits on the Salmond inquiry committee, said the appearance yesterday of the government's former director of legal services, Paul Cackette, and Sarah Davidson, former director general of organisational development and operations, had "re-affirmed the arrogance with which the Scottish Government approached the case".
She said: “Despite repeated warnings that the Scottish Government’s own actions had compromised their case, the government persisted with the judicial review at great expense to the Scottish taxpayer.
“The Permanent Secretary drove the process from start to finish and appears to have discarded professional judgement in pursuing the judicial review when she knew the prospects of success were minimal. This is completely arrogant and a waste of taxpayers’ money."
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Successive Scottish and UK Governments have not disclosed the source or content of legal advice other than in the most exceptional circumstances.”
“Legal privilege is inherent to the functioning of good government and the rule of law. It’s important that the legal advice which ministers and their officials receive is full and frank, and not affected by concerns about it subsequently becoming public.”
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