MSPs warned of wait for Alex Salmond case legal advice

MSPs on Holyrood's Alex Salmond inquiry could face a lengthy wait to get access to legal advice at the heart of the probe – even if the Scottish Government makes it public.

Alex Salmond won a judicial review against the Scottish Government
Alex Salmond won a judicial review against the Scottish Government

Deputy First Minister John Swinney has written to the committee after it raised concerns about the use of legal privilege to withhold certain documents from being made public.

Mr Swinney warned he was still considering whether to make the legal advice public. But this potential move came under fire from one member of the committee, established to probe the Scottish Government's handling of complaints about the former First Minister, who branded it a "democratic outrage2.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Mr Salmond was cleared of a string of sexual assault charges at the High Court in March. This came after he won a judicial review against the Scottish Government over its handling of internal complaints made against him by two civil servants.

The Scottish Government last week lost a vote at Holyrood, which called on it to publish the legal advice it received relating to a judicial review brought by the former first minister over its handling of that internal probe.

Mr Swinney today said he was still "considering the implications" of the vote in Parliament last week.

But he added: "Even if ministers take the decision that the balance of public interest favours disclosure in a particular case, they must obtain the prior consent of law officers and that consent will be given only if there are ‘compelling reasons’.

“I cannot, therefore, give a specific timescale when an outcome will be confirmed, but I will aim to update Parliament on progress on this matter as soon as possible."

And even if they agree to this, the Deputy First Minister warns that further work would be required to "implement the waiver”.

This would include reviewing all redactions on a range of documents which are soon to be released and have already been made public.

"This would need to be factored in to the time it would take to share relevant documents with the Committee if LPP was waived," he adds.

But Labour committee member Jackie Baillie branded the letter "extraordinary”.

She said: "By failing to hand over the legal advice today the Deputy First Minister has shown utter contempt for the committee and the wishes of the Scottish Parliament.

“This is no longer mere obstruction. This is a democratic outrage. The committee is due to hear evidence from the Lord Advocate and the Permanent Secretary on Tuesday and will do so with one hand tied behind its back.

“The lengths to which the Scottish Government is willing to go to hide essential information from the committee and protect its reputation are clear. The committee must show the same determination in uncovering the truth behind this sordid episode.”

Committee convener Linda Fabiani has voiced frustration at the lack of information being provided by the Scottish Government and even halted its proceedings earlier in the year, as a result of the lack of co-operation.

Mr Salmond and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon are due to appear before MSPs to give evidence next month.

A message from the Editor:Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.