Salmond legal advice deadline missed by Scottish Government

The Scottish Government has failed to meet a deadline to hand over legal advice it received to a Holyrood committee investigating its handling of sexual harassment complaints against former first minister Alex Salmond.

Opposition MSPs reacted with fury when Deputy First Minister John Swinney said he could not give a “specific timescale” on when a decision could be made about handing the documents over.

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie slammed the Scottish Government for its “utter contempt” for Holyrood after MSPs voted that ministers should waive their legal privilege and publish all the legal advice received.

Coronavirus – Thu Sep 30, 2020
Coronavirus – Thu Sep 30, 2020

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: “Hiding evidence is the definition of a cover-up and at this point, how can the Government claim this is anything else?”

Ms Baillie and Mr Fraser are both part of the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, which was set up after Mr Salmond won more than £500,000 when they way allegations against him were dealt with was ruled to be unlawful.

The committee had set the Scottish Government a deadline of Friday to hand over the legal advice.

While Mr Swinney told MSPs ministers are “considering” the issues around this, he said the consent of senior lawyers is needed before any documents can be released.

In a letter to the committee, he said “even if ministers take the decision that the balance of public interest favours disclosure … they must obtain the prior consent of law officers and that consent will be given only if there are compelling reasons”.

He added: “I cannot, therefore, give a specific timescale when an outcome will be confirmed but I will aim to update Parliament on progress on this matter as soon as possible.”

The Deputy First Minister stressed: “Even if a decision was taken to waive LPP (legal professional privilege) on the legal advice relating to the judicial review, further work would be required to implement that waiver.”

Michelle Thomson property investigation
Michelle Thomson property investigation

Ms Baillie said: “This is extraordinary. By failing to hand over the legal advice today, the Deputy First Minister has shown utter contempt for the committee and the wishes of the Scottish Parliament.

“This is no longer mere obstruction. This is a democratic outrage.

“The committee is due to hear evidence from the lord advocate and the permanent secretary on Tuesday and will do so with one hand tied behind its back.”

She added: “The lengths to which the Scottish Government is willing to go to hide essential information from the committee and protect its reputation are clear.

“The committee must show the same determination in uncovering the truth behind this sordid episode.”

Mr Fraser claimed: “The SNP are taking something that was already a scandal – losing £500,000 of taxpayers’ money – and they’re now throwing our entire parliamentary system into disrepute.

“They are defying the will of the Scottish Parliament and ignoring a cross-party committee of MSPs, headed by an SNP convener.

“For 18 months, they have deliberately blocked the committee’s work and dragged their feet handing over scraps of information.”