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Holyrood harassment inquiry to consider legal means to force Scottish Government to release documents

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Holyrood harassment inquiry to consider legal means to force Scottish Government to release documents

The Holyrood inquiry into the handling of harassment complaints against Alex Salmond has agreed to consider resorting to legal means in its attempts to force the Scottish Government to release information central to its investigation.

The inquiry committee today hit out at the Scottish Government for refusing to release material related to the case, with convener Linda Fabiani writing to permanent secretary Leslie Evans to express her “frustration and disappointment” at the approach.

Despite requests from the committee – set up to examine the handling of sexual misconduct claims against Salmond – the Scottish Government has refused to hand over information, such as the legal advice it received for its investigation, which it claims is legally privileged.

The committee was established after the former First Minister launched legal action against the Scottish Government at the Court of Session, with the government eventually conceding that their investigation was flawed and paying around £500,000 in legal costs.

But in a new letter, the committee investigating the handling of the inquiry has blasted the Scottish Government’s approach to sharing information, questioning the “limited information the Scottish Government has offered to justify the grounds for applying legal professional privilege”, as well as a lack of detail on the documents which have been withheld.

Holyrood understands the committee has agreed to consider legal action to get the documents it requests.

Writing to Evans, SNP MSP Linda Fabiani expressed her frustration, adding that the “committee will not hesitate to explore all options available to it to receive the documents it requires for this inquiry if the Scottish Government continues to refuse to provide documents and to provide an adequate explanation for withholding such documents”.

She said: “Withholding this amount of information, and providing the committee with a submission that is lacking in detail on what is being withheld gives the impression that the Scottish Government expects the committee, once again, to have to enter into protracted discussions with the Scottish Government to extract the information it needs”.

She added: “The committee expects, as a matter of absolute urgency, a detailed description of the forms of the documents being withheld and the specific grounds for doing so, including drawing a clear distinction between information the government is choosing to withhold, for example, due to claiming legal professional privilege (detailing either legal or litigation privilege), and those where there are court imposed restrictions.”

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