New documents undermine Salmond claim that government tried to delay judicial review
Lord Advocate James Wolffe advised the Scottish Government not to seek to delay Alex Salmond's judicial review until after a criminal trial, documents show.
A letter released last night by the government shows the Lord Advocate advised on 17 September 2018 that the use of reporting restrictions would be "preferable" to sisting, or delaying, the case to allow any criminal proceedings to progress.
In January 2019, the Court of Session ruled the Scottish Government had acted "unlawfully" in its handling of harassment complaints against Salmond.
The former first minister was cleared of all charges of sexual assault following a criminal trial in early 2020.
The documents published by the government appear to show that delaying the initial civil case had been put forward as an option by legal counsel.
But in his letter of September 2018, the Lord Advocate said the use of reporting restrictions on material published by the media could be used to safeguard any later criminal prosecution.
He said: "I am satisfied that, if reporting restrictions are competent, these would adequately protect the public interest in any future criminal proceedings.
"On that basis, that would clearly be the preferable and appropriate route, since it would enable the issues raised by the petition to be addressed whilst protecting any future criminal process."
He added: "Assuming that counsel is satisfied that there is such a basis, it is envisaged that an application would be made to the court to impose reporting restrictions in advance of Answers being lodged on behalf of SG (Scottish Government)."
In a letter to the committee investigating the government's botched handling of the harassment complaints, Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: "As requested by the committee, the documents include two notes of advice from Counsel and one submission from the Lord Advocate which include material relevant to the issue of whether the Scottish Government sought to sist the judicial review.
"During his evidence session with the committee on Friday 26 February, Mr Salmond raised an allegation that there was a desire within government to seek to sist the judicial review until criminal proceedings against him were concluded.
"In Scottish Ministers’ view, the documents do not support this allegation. From September 2018, once the Scottish Government was content that necessary arrangements were in place to protect the identities of the complainers to minimise the impact of the judicial review proceedings on the police investigation, the Scottish Government’s view was that there was no need to sist the case. I confirm that we have not identified any other documents relevant to this allegation."
A statement released on behalf of the former first minister said the documents showed that postponing the judicial review had been under "active consideration" by the government in September 2018.