Prosecutors rule out 'blanket' release of Alex Salmond documents to MSPs

Prosecution chiefs have rejected calls from MSPs on the Alex Salmond harassment committee for a blanket release of documents relating to a separate criminal trial involving the former first minister.

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

But the Crown Office says it would consider the release of specific documents if they are identified in advance by the Committee on the Scottish Government's handling of Harassment Complaints involving Mr Salmond.

The prospect of Mr Salmond's legal team releasing documents, which were provided by prosecutors for the criminal trial earlier this year, has also been ruled out by the Crown Office.

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Mr Salmond was cleared of a string of sexual assault charges at the High Court in March this year. 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.

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A committee of MSPs has now been established at Holyrood to investigate the Scottish Government's handling of that probe and the collapse of the judicial review.

Committee convener Linda Fabiani had previously called on the Crown Office to release "all such information" it holds on the criminal case, which may be of relevance to MSPs' inquiry.

But a response from Procurator Fiscal Kenny Donnelly today states that information that prosecutors acquired for the criminal trail "was obtained and is held for that sole purpose”.

He said: "If COPFS (Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service) were to provide such information for other purposes, then there is a significant risk that this would undermine public confidence both in the police and in COPFS and that members of the public would be discouraged from providing such information which is necessary for the investigation and prosecution of crime."

Mr Donnelly adds: "At present, you have identified no legal basis that would allow COPFS to disclose any material which it holds to the committee."

The committee could invoke the legal power under section 23 of the Scotland Act, which allows MSPs to compel witnesses and documents, although this could still be rejected if it is deemed to prejudice the public interest or criminal proceedings.

Mr Donnelly said: "Should the committee decide to make a requirement under section 23, it would be helpful if that requirement could specify what document or documents the committee sought and, if possible, an outline of the anticipated relevance of the document to the work of the committee.

"This would allow COPFS to ascertain firstly whether it holds the document or documents sought and thereafter to make an informed decision on the public interest test required by the Act."

Mr Salmond's lawyers have previously suggested they could release information to the committee that was provided to them by prosecutors in the course of the criminal trial, but claimed this would require permission from the Crown Office.

But Mr Donnelly insists there is "no legal basis" for this and to do so would be an offence under the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010.

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

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