Release of Alex Salmond judicial review advice being considered after Holyrood defeat

The Scottish Government is to consider releasing the legal advice relating to its unsuccessful court battle with former first minister Alex Salmond after a Holyrood defeat.

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

A Tory motion demanding the release of the legal advice was backed by 63 votes to 54 tonight with the opposition Labour, Greens and Liberal Democrats all backing the call.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney pledged to consider the issue after the outcome.

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"Ministers always seek to respect the decisions taken by Parliament,” he said.

"I will now consider the implications of the motion with my ministerial colleagues consistent with our obligations in the ministerial code and will advise Parliament accordingly of our response.”

The Scottish Government lost a judicial review brought by Mr Salmond over the handling of an investigation into complaints about the ex-first minister which were made by two civil servants.

A specially-convened Holyrood committee set up to look into the Scottish Government's handling of the complaints made against Mr Salmond has voiced growing frustration about difficulties in accessing information from civil servants.

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: "This crucial vote backing the Scottish Conservative motion sends a clear message that the SNP don’t get to make their own rules and decide what constitutes transparency.

“The government has so far treated the Salmond inquiry with contempt. It has refused at every turn to release key evidence and kept the legal advice hidden.

“As a result, we don’t know if £500,000 of public money was handed to Alex Salmond because of sheer incompetence, faulty legal advice or something more reckless and sinister. Until the government releases the legal advice, it is impossible for the committee and the public to know the truth.”

The Scottish Government was forced to pay out £630,000 in legal costs associated with the judicial review, including more than £500,000 to Mr Salmond.

Opposition parties backed the calls for the legal advice to be published.

Labour’s Jackie Baillie said: "The Government should be committed to openness and transparency – they should be providing the committee with whatever material they request.”

Greens MSP Andy Wightman said public interest was paramount, adding: “This democratically elected Parliament is a better barometer of public interest than the Government who are an interested party in this inquiry.”

Liberal Democrat Alex-Cole Hamilton said: “"Parliament has made quite clear that on this occasion it expects the legal advice to be handed over to the Salmond inquiry. It will be interesting to see whether its contents match the claims made by Scottish Government ministers and officials."

Mr Swinney had earlier told MSPs that said Scots law was clear that anyone seeking legal advice had the benefit of "confidential communications" with their lawyer - and this also applied to governments.

"It is important that the legal advice ministers receive is full, frank and not affected by concerns about it subsequently becoming public," he said.

The Scottish Government had published legal advice before, including on the Edinburgh trams inquiry and the Hepatitis C inquiry into infected blood.

But Mr Swinney said these were areas of major public policy and not litigation like a judicial review.

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