Alex Salmond’s lawyers have demanded legal justification for the Scottish Parliament redacting swathes of his written evidence and warned the decision has jeopardised his planned appearance before a Holyrood committee on Wednesday.
Parliament took down evidence from its website in which Mr Salmond alleged First Minister Nicola Sturgeon broke the ministerial code, purportedly after contempt of court concerns were raised by the Crown Office.
Despite the written submission being in the public domain for approximately 16 hours, it was replaced with a redacted version with five sections censored.
The former first minister’s lawyers have now written to parliament asking to see the legal advice it received about redacting the evidence.
The letter also states the decision could mean Mr Salmond is advised not to attend Wednesday’s evidence session of the Holyrood inquiry into the Government’s unlawful investigation of sexual harassment allegations against him.
“Our client’s submission was carefully reviewed by us and by counsel before submission,” David McKie of Levy and McRae solicitors wrote.
“There is no legal basis for the redactions that we are aware of which you now propose having gone through that extremely careful exercise.”
The redaction of a further 474 words from Mr Salmond’s submission about whether the First Minister breached the ministerial code suggests there is a “material risk” if he appears to give oral evidence as planned, Mr McKie wrote.
He argued Mr Salmond is “entitled” to have his evidence published and added: “If any aspect of it is removed, it compromises his oral evidence.”
Mr McKie also described the decision to subsequently redact evidence as a “significant surprise and concern”, and said the Crown Office’s intervention “only serves to reinforce” Mr Salmond’s fears about the prosecution body’s actions.
He added: “We therefore require to see urgently the legal basis for the proposed redactions in order that we can properly advise our client and make further representations.
“These could have a material bearing on whether he is able to attend tomorrow.
“As matters stand, we have advised him that the apparent intervention from the crown suggests that there has to be a material risk to him in speaking to his submission.
“He cannot be placed in legal jeopardy.”
After the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body (SPCB) “collectively” decided to remove and redact the evidence, a Scottish Parliament spokesman said: “The SPCB agreed to republish the submission in redacted form in line with representations from the Crown Office.
“We cannot comment any further on the redactions as the Crown Office has advised that its correspondence on this matter must be kept confidential.”
A spokesman for the Crown Office said: “In all cases where the Crown becomes aware of issues of potential contempt, these will be considered carefully and action will be taken if considered appropriate.”
Mr Salmond had previously declined to attend after the committee voted to not publish evidence Mr Salmond had submitted.
However, the SPCB ultimately concluded “on balance” it would be “possible” for the document to be published, clearing the way for Mr Salmond’s anticipated appearance.
His written evidence names people he claims were involved in a “malicious and concerted” attempt to remove him from public life, including Ms Sturgeon’s chief of staff Liz Lloyd, the First Minister’s husband and SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, the SNP’s compliance officer Ian McCann and its chief operating officer Sue Ruddick.
He added: “Underlying all of this and perhaps the most serious issue of all is the complete breakdown of the necessary barriers which should exist between Government, political party and indeed the prosecution authorities in any country which abides by the rule of law.
“I leave to others the question of what is, or is not, a conspiracy but am very clear in my position that the evidence supports a deliberate, prolonged, malicious and concerted effort amongst a range of individuals within the Scottish Government and the SNP to damage my reputation, even to the extent of having me imprisoned.”
Ms Sturgeon has previously insisted Mr Salmond would not be able to prove there was a conspiracy against him.
She said: “What we have not seen is a shred of evidence to back these wild claims up.
“Now, in front of the Parliament, the burden of proof is on Alex Salmond.
“It is time for insinuation and assertion to be replaced with actual evidence.
“If, as I fully expect, there is no evidence, because there was no conspiracy, then people will draw their own conclusions.”
On Monday afternoon, Scottish Labour MSP Neil Findlay called for a cabinet minister to appear urgently to answer questions about a “crisis of credibility” over the saga.