Nicola Sturgeon claims releasing legal advice around Alex Salmond case would breach ministerial code

Nicola Sturgeon has said immediately acting on the Scottish Parliament’s vote calling on her to release the Scottish Government’s legal advice around the judicial review case involving Alex Salmond would breach ministerial ethics rules.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister's Questions at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister's Questions at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.

Holyrood voted in favour of a non-binding motion this week calling on the Scottish Government to release the advice.

Responding to a question during First Minister’s Questions today from Scottish Conservative MSP Margaret Mitchell on whether she will comply with the motion and provide a date of publication, Ms Sturgeon said doing so would break the ministerial code.

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The First Minister said: “If I was to do what Margaret Mitchell just asked me to do there, I would be blatantly breaching the Ministerial Code.

Alex Salmond won his judicial review action against the Scottish government. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

“Paragraph 2.38 of the Ministerial Code firstly says ministers must not, must not divulge the contents of legal advice. Then at paragraph 2.40 it does recognise that in exceptional circumstances ministers may decide that the balance of public interest favours disclosure, but if so, ministers, and I repeat must, obtain the prior consent of law officers. And that consent will only be given if there are compelling reasons.

“So ministers do have to consider now the vote last night. The Deputy First Minister made clear ministers will do so. I have rightly, I think, recused myself from that decision and, as John Swinney said to Parliament last night, he will advise parliament accordingly in due course of our response.”

A Scottish Parliament committee is conducting an inquiry into the handling of complaints against Mr Salmond, which led to a £500,000 bill for the taxpayer after legal action by the former FM.

Ms Mitchell, who sits on the Salmond inquiry committee, said: “Instead of a straightforward, firm commitment that the legal advice would be published as soon as possible, all we heard from the First Minister today was excuses.

“It is a matter of profound concern for our parliamentary democracy that the government appears to be intent on continuing to evade scrutiny and to ignore the will of the Scottish Parliament.

“The integrity of the Parliament is at stake. The committee cannot carry out its remit without the legal advice. If the government continue to refuse to release it, the public will never know why more than £500,000 of their money was handed to Alex Salmond.”

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