'No intention to conceal' evidence from Alex Salmond court case

The Scottish Government did not seek to "conceal" critical documents from a Court of Session battle with Alex Salmond that it eventually lost, the country's top law officer has said.

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

But Lord Advocate James Wolffe admitted that Government processes fell short in the disclosure of documents to a judicial review brought by the former first minister.

The legal chief said today "lessons have to be learned" for future cases as he appeared before MSPs investigating the Scottish Government's handling of harassment complaints against Mr Salmond.

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The ex-SNP leader won a judicial review against the Government he used to lead in January last year over the process it used to investigate complaints made against him by two civil servants. Mr Salmond was also separately cleared of a string of sexual assaults charges in a criminal case in March.

The Lord Advocate revealed the Scottish Government case was irreparably damaged after documents emerged on December 18, several months after the judicial review had been launched.

These revealed the Scottish Government official heading up the internal investigation had met with one of the complainers the day before a formal complaint was made.

The investigating officer later said she couldn't remember the meeting. A second document revealed an email chain that showed arrangements of a meeting between the investigating officer and the other complainer.

The Lord Advocate said the revelations were "damaging in a number of respects" of the Scottish Government case. It "altered the whole factual picture", he added, and may have given the the impression of "apparent bias”.

"The emergence of these documents at that late stage also contradicted assurances which counsel had given to the court and their counterparts about the disclosure of documents," he said.

But Labour MSP Jackie Baillie pointed out the Scottish Government had opposed the establishment of a Documents Commission by Lord Pentland at the Judicial Review. This resulted in hundreds of documents being released, including the revelations of the additional contacts between the investigating officer and complainer.

"That was where those documents were revealed," Ms Baillie said.

"At that stage a senior servant told the court there were no other documents to disclose."

She said: "I'm left wondering whose interests was it to conceal."

But the Lord Advocate added: "There was never any intention or desire to conceal anything. The whole approach the Government took in November in terms of putting facts into the pleadings and disclosing documents voluntarily reflected a desire to be candid and transparent.

"Regrettably, and we know from how matters turned out, the investigation undertaken then to identify all the relevant documents and to get a full picture of the facts was not as robust as it should have been.

"Lessons have to be learned from that."

The Lord Advocate had earlier refused to provide details of the private legal advice provided to ministers, in line with the ministerial code. The Scottish Government is currently re-considering its refusal to provide this advice, after losing a vote in Parliament on the issue a fortnight ago.

Mr Salmond and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon are scheduled to appear before the committee next month.

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