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First Minister accused of ‘secrecy and evasion’ for failing to provide full legal advice to Covid inquiry

Humza Yousaf and Shona Robison have been accused of misleading parliament | Alamy

First Minister accused of ‘secrecy and evasion’ for failing to provide full legal advice to Covid inquiry

First Minister Humza Yousaf has been accused of failing to provide unredacted legal advice the Scottish Government received during the pandemic to the Covid inquiry.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the “secrecy and evasion must stop” after the Covid inquiry’s lawyer had said they had not had full sight of advice which meant it was being “constrained”.

Humza Yousaf said his government had furnished the inquiry with the legal advice where possible, but was not able to do so in full in order to protect legal privilege.

Legal advice given to government is typically not published to ensure ministers are provided will full and frank advice.

However, this privilege can be waived when necessary. The government has previously provided unredacted legal advice to public inquiries, including those on Edinburgh trams and blood contamination.

Sarwar urged the FM to hand over the “crucial evidence”, adding that refusing to do so was an “affront” to bereaved families.

Yousaf replied: “Where there is the ability to hand over legal advice unredacted, then I expect Scottish Government to do so.

“And of course I’m more than happy after this exchange at First Minister’s Questions to have the appropriate conversations with the law officers, but we have to ensure the legal privilege is protected.” 

A Scottish Government spokesperson later said: “It is vital that legal professionals are able to offer advice to the Scottish Government and its ministers privately. The Scottish Government does, however, acknowledge that the unique circumstances of these inquiries mean they may need to see exchanges containing legal advice and comment to understand the full context of the information before them.

“Recognising this we have made a proposal to the Inquiry which is the subject of consideration by them.”

The FM also faced questions over requests for WhatsApp messages by the inquiry.

At last week's FMQs, he said the government had received that request “in September, just a matter of weeks ago”.

That was contradicted by a written answer from deputy first minister Shona Robison yesterday, which confirmed the inquiry had asked for sight of messages in February.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross accused the FM of having misled parliament.

Yousaf insisted this was “not the case”. He said Robison had referred to initial requests from the inquiry in her statement last week, and he admitted “as a government we interpreted those requests too narrowly”.

The FM apologised to families bereaved by Covid. He said: “For any shortcomings on our behalf that have caused any distress to families and loved ones bereaved by Covid, I apologise unreservedly.”

Sarwar also raised reports that communications sent via SNP and private emails had not been handed over.

Yousaf said it was his expectation that all relevant material would be passed on.


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