Alex Salmond to take legal action against Scottish Government over Permanent Secretary
ALEX Salmond is to take legal action against the Scottish Government for a second time.
In a statement, the former first minister said Scotland’s most senior civil servant, Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, needed to take responsibility for the “catastrophic failures” of the botched investigation into harassment complaints against him.
Salmond said he accepted the findings of the both the Holyrood inquiry and James Hamilton’s probe into the ministerial code, “despite their manifest limitations”.
He would, he said, “move on”.
He added: “A year ago, outside the High Court, I said that there was evidence which I wished to see the light of day. Some of that key material, including the government legal advice, eventually emerged through the parliamentary committee. Much of it did not.
“A month ago, I gave public evidence to the parliamentary inquiry itself. I called for some in leadership positions to consider their position. It is in the public interest that such action be taken to prevent a damaging erosion of trust in the institutions of government. As the record shows I did not call for the resignation of the First Minister.
“I have waited to see the response from those individuals to the publication of the Inquiry reports. Unfortunately, it appears that the clear intention is to carry on regardless.”
Salmond said the Holyrood committee’s report had made clear that “the catastrophic failures in this matter are not just systemic, but can properly be laid at the door of individuals, and in particular, the Permanent Secretary.”
The ex-SNP chief pointed to a section of the committee report which criticised Evans for her role.
In their damning report, there was unanimous agreement from the cross-party committee that the Permanent Secretary was guilty of a “significant” failing.
The MSPs said the Scottish Government had caused an avoidable situation, and that the failure to disclose documents to the court ultimately led to the high level of cost being awarded to Salmond.
Evans was in charge of the handing over of documents for the judicial review. She was also aware of the prior contact between the Investigating Officer and the two civil servants who complained about Salmond.
The committee report said: “It must be questioned why the Permanent Secretary in her role and with her knowledge did not ensure that the relevant information was extracted and processed at a much earlier stage. This individual failing is as significant as the general corporate failing already described.”
Salmond said: “I was previously forced to take the Permanent Secretary to the Court of Session over the illegality of her actions and was successful. Despite being found responsible for that unlawful and unfair process and incurring a vast and avoidable cost to the taxpayer of over £600,000 in legal expenses, the Permanent Secretary did not offer her resignation on January 8th 2019.
“Now, more than two years later, and despite the most damning condemnation from a Committee in the history of the modern Scottish Parliament, the Permanent Secretary still refuses to accept real responsibility.
“Instead, the waste of public resources has continued to grow as has the impact on all the people concerned.
“This cannot stand. I have therefore taken legal advice and will shortly be instructing my lawyers to bring proceedings in the Court of Session arising as a direct result of the conduct of the Permanent Secretary. I hope it is the only legal action that I am required to take.
“I have complete faith in the outcome of that court process, coming as it does with all the proper powers of recovery of documents and thus the ability to properly interrogate those individuals responsible, the absence of which so restricted the parliamentary committee. “
Salmond said he would also be contacting the police over the leak of the allegations to the Daily Record in August 2018.
He added: “I have every confidence that Police Scotland will pursue that matter with rigour.
“I intend to make no further public comment on these issues and will leave the police and the courts to do their job.
“Instead I intend to move on, just as Scotland should now move on to debate the key election issues before us all, principally economic recovery from the pandemic and the future independence of our country.”
The Scottish Government has been approached for comment.
Nicola Sturgeon was pressed on her permanent secretary during today's First Minister’s Questions.
Labour MSP Jackie Baillie, who was a member of the harassment committee, said: “The development of the policy was flawed, the appointment of the investigating officer was wrong and documents were even withheld from the Court of Session.
"I do not believe that the First Minister is happy with any of that, so why, three years on, has no one assumed responsibility
"Why does she still have confidence in the permanent secretary who presided over all that terrible mess?”
The First Minister said that it was for her, as leader of the government, to take the blame
“I take responsibility for what happens in the Scottish Government, and I take responsibility for acknowledging when things go wrong and for putting right things that go wrong.
“Many things matter to me. If I am re-elected as First Minister, there are—as we have reflected on during this First Minister’s question time—many priorities and many things in my in-tray and on my desk.
"However, few things matter more to me than making sure that we have a culture in the Scottish Government in which anybody who believes that they have been subjected to harassment can come forward and have confidence and trust that their complaints will be listened to and addressed properly.
“The Government did make a mistake on that—I have certainly never shied away from that. However, I will also never shy away from saying this: it made a mistake in the course of trying to do the right thing.
"The Government was determined that—unlike what would undoubtedly have happened in years gone by—such complaints would not simply be swept under the carpet. That is the right starting point.
"What we must do now is put right the things that went wrong, so that mistakes are not made in the future. I deeply regret what happened, and I have apologised—and will continue to do so—to the women who were let down.”