Probe into Nicola Sturgeon’s meetings with Alex Salmond paused
An investigation into whether Nicola Sturgeon breached the ministerial code during discussions with Alex Salmond has been put on hold until the conclusion of a court case against him.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney said there is a “potential risk of prejudice” if the inquiry is held at the same time as the legal proceedings.
He said it has therefore been agreed that the probe should “be deferred while criminal investigations are active”.
A Scottish Government review of its handling of complaints against the former first minister has also been delayed.
Mr Swinney said: “Both the Scottish Government review and consideration under the ministerial code will recommence once criminal proceedings are no longer active and the risk of prejudice has been removed.”
Salmond appeared in court last week charged with 14 offences, including two of attempted rape, but he insisted afterwards he refutes “absolutely these allegations of criminality”.
Ms Sturgeon, who had meetings and phone calls with the former first minister about the Scottish Government’s handling of complaints against him, referred herself to those who consider potential breaches of the ministerial code of conduct.
Mr Swinney said James Hamilton, the independent adviser on the Code, had “concluded that there is a potential risk of prejudice if the First Minister’s self-referral under the ministerial code were to proceed at the present time”.
In answer to a parliamentary question, Mr Swinney added: “As a result, this review of its procedure for handling complaints about ministers or former ministers will not be progressed at this stage.”
He stressed the Scottish Government is “committed to carrying out a review of the application of its procedure for handling complaints about ministers or former ministers”.
But he also said: “The Scottish Government does not wish to undertake any activity which may unintentionally prejudice live criminal proceedings, adversely impact the rights of anyone involved in the proceedings or affect the formal criminal process which is now under way.
“As a result, this review of its procedure for handling complaints about ministers or former ministers will not be progressed at this stage.”
Scottish Labour accused the Government of trying to “bury” the news by announcing the delay on the same day as a key budget vote at Holyrood.
The party’s equalities spokeswoman Pauline McNeill said: “While it is understandable that the start of the investigation will be paused until the criminal case is resolved, it is deeply regrettable that the SNP Government has attempted to bury this news on the day of the Budget.”