Scottish Government not 'systematic or comprehensive' in document release for Salmond case

The Scottish Government was not "systematic or comprehensive" in the production of documents for a court case brought against it by former First Minister Alex Salmond, an internal report found.

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

The report produced for the country's top civil servant Leslie Evans said the Government's case in the judicial review brought by Mr Salmond faced a "watershed moment" when previous contacts emerged between the official investigating his behaviour and the two women making complaints.

These contacts, which gave rise to a perception of unfairness and bias, only emerged after a "Documents Commission" was set up by the Court of Session to ensure the judges received all the information they needed.

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The situation is set out in a report by the then Director General for Organisational Development and Operations Sarah Davidson. It was released today by a committee of MSPs specially set up to investigate the Government's handling of complaints following the collapse of the judicial review in January last year.

Ms Davidson says that the contacts between the investigating officer and complainers had not emerged in "previous document searches."

"It is clear that the process of searching for and producing relevant documentation under the duty of candour has not been systematic and comprehensive," Ms Davidson states.

"It is for this reason that the full picture of and the risk of the perceptions that these could give rise to, only became visible to Counsel and to SGLD at the end of last week."

The report was prepared towards the end of December 2018 and ministers formally conceded the case at the Court of Session early in 2019.

MSPs on the committee have previously been told that the legal advice to ministers changed after the contact between the investigating officer and complainers came to light, with Lord Advocate James Wolfe stating in evidence that it irreparably damaged ministers' case.

The report by Ms Davidson says that the revelations of contact, which came to light on December 21 2018, were a "watershed moment" for the Scottish Government's legal case which then became "unstateable."

However, a more detailed breakdown summary of the legal advice provided to ministers by counsel has been redacted from Davidson's report. MSPs on the committee have been seeking full details of the legal advice provided to ministers and say this doesn't go far enough.

Committee convener has written to Deputy first Minister John Swinney complaining there is no detail of any counsel advice from August to the beginning of October 2018. MSPs also want more information from the period around the 19 October 2018 after evidence hinted that the investigating officer's contact with the complainers became a focus for internal and external lawyers.

"Given the Committee’s unanimous agreement that sight of the legal advice itself is required, you will be unsurprised to hear that the Committee remains determined to see further advice," Ms Fabiani states.

The committee have also written to SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, Nicola Sturgeon’s husband, asking for further information from him, including about the use of social media platform WhatsApp. It has also written to Police Scotland asking for details of its involvement the development of the Scottish Government’s complaints procedure.

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