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by Louise Wilson
25 November 2020
MSPs back release of legal advice in Alex Salmond judicial review for second time

Parliament TV

MSPs back release of legal advice in Alex Salmond judicial review for second time

MSPs have for the second time urged the government to publish the legal advice it received in relation to the judicial review on the handling of complaints against Alex Salmond.

Bringing a motion to the chamber on Wednesday afternoon, Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser accused the government of “simply running down the clock” ahead of next year’s election.

MSPs backed the Tory motion by 65 votes to 55. A Scottish Government amendment was defeated.

The Scottish Parliament voted at the start of November for the government to release the legal advice.

And the committee tasked with investigating the botched handling of harassment complaints which led to over £500,000 being paid to the former first minister, wrote to John Swinney shortly afterwards, seeking the material by Friday 13 November.

That deadline was not met, with the Deputy First Minister writing to say he was “considering the implications” of the motion to waive legal professional privilege.

The committee was planning to wrap up taking evidence by Christmas.

Fraser said: “It is time for Scottish ministers to respect the will of parliament, to stop delaying, to stop the obfuscation and provide the legal advice without further delay.

“Time is running out on the committee inquiry. If they want to have any shred of credibility left when it comes to openness and respecting the will of parliament, they must produce the legal advice.”

Responding in the debate, Swinney highlighted the disclosure of legal advice required consent from the law officers and in addition would need to be reviewed to ensure they complied with the law and did not reveal the identities of complainers.

But he said he would consult again with cabinet and take on board arguments put forward in the debate before coming to a decision.

He added: “This is not a straight-forward decision. There is no clear precedent for the Scottish Government to waive legal privilege in these circumstances and there is a very real potential for negative consequences from such a decision.

“This would potentially be the creation of a new precedent that would also potentially undermine the ability of the government to receive legal advice in all candour that would enable it to take decisions during litigation in the future. “

But Labour MSP Jackie Baillie suggested Swinney has “no intention of provide the information to the parliament”.

She added: “That’s certainly what I understand he told the SNP group meeting recently: he is simply refusing to hand over the legal advice.

“The Scottish Government like to think of themselves as world leaders, and indeed they are – world leaders at dissembling, obstruction and secrecy.”

The Scottish Conservatives have warned that if the advice is not published after Wednesday’s debate, they will take legal action against the government.

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