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by Andrew Learmonth
16 March 2021
Salmond lawyer hits out at harassment committee for not seeking trial evidence

Alex Salmond and lawyer David McKie in January 2019, outside the Court of Session after the Scottish Government was ruled to have acted unlawfully

Salmond lawyer hits out at harassment committee for not seeking trial evidence

ALEX Salmond’s lawyers have hit out at Holyrood’s harassment committee after MSPs decided not to order the law firm to hand over evidence from the criminal trial.

Last month, in his evidence session before the inquiry, the ex-SNP leader suggested the committee use a Section 24 order to ask his legal team to hand over documents they had received from the Crown to help prepare his defence.

However, in a letter to Levy & McRae the committee’s convener, Linda Fabiani, said this could be unlawful. 

The cross-party committee is investigating the Scottish Government’s flawed probe into allegations of harassment made against Salmond by two civil servants.

He had the exercise set aside in January 2019, with a judicial review declaring it “unlawful” and “tainted by apparent bias”.

The government’s botched handling ultimately cost the taxpayer half a million pounds.

At the later criminal case, the former SNP leader was cleared on 13 counts of sexual assault.

Salmond has long argued that he is unable to tell the whole truth to the inquiry as he risks prosecution by the Crown Office if he breaches Section 162 of the 2010 Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act and mentions evidence from the trial.

In his closing statement Salmond said the committee could use their powers under the Scotland Act “to serve an order on my solicitors, who are extremely willing to give you information.”

In her letter, Fabiani said it “would not be appropriate” to use those powers “in a way that the parliament has agreed would be unlawful”.

In a response today, David McKie from Levy & McRae said Salmond “cannot understand why a parliamentary committee does not wish to see relevant material which will help to fulfil its remit.”

The lawyers added: “The decision not to seek such relevant material, in fact, undermines your remit. The public is left wondering, after our client’s evidence session, why such material cannot be considered by you and published. 

“He offered to produce it when giving evidence before the committee, it has been repeated twice in correspondence and your Committee’s willingness to accept the offer (at least partially) was publicised in a number of media outlets.”

He said Salmond was “perplexed and disappointed at this decision as he is aware of highly relevant evidence which he has been prevented from producing and which would allow the committee to consider and report on the actions of the First Minister, Scottish Government officials and special advisers in dealing with complaints about him, considered under the Scottish Government’s ‘Handling of harassment complaints involving current or former ministers’ procedure and actions in relation to the Scottish Ministerial Code.”

The lawyer says the committee’s interpretation of the law is wrong.  

He adds: “The consequences of your decisions are clear, as we have been spelling out to your committee since last October. You have chosen to disregard – and not even review – evidence which is relevant to your Inquiry.

“Our client was in a position to approve the production of evidence all of which was relevant to recent evidence sessions with Mr Murrell, Ms Mackinnon, Ms Sturgeon the Lord Advocate and the Crown Agent as our client made clear in his evidence session.

“This is all the more remarkable given that, with the exception of Mr Murrell, the actions of the others are part of the remit of your inquiry.

“In the case of the last two witnesses their own department will now decide on what material to present which is relevant to their own evidence sessions. It is possible that you may still recover some of this evidence, but our client believes that it would surely be preferable to serve a s. 24 Order on those willing – and on the record – to offer you material which goes right to the heart of your remit.”

The lawyer said that unless MSPs reconsider, their “deliberations and conclusions will be based on incomplete evidence.” 

He added: “Our client considers that to be a disservice to the Scottish public given the issues at stake and the government’s own stated willingness to co-operate in full from the outset.”

 

While the parliamentary committee did not ask Salmond for more papers, they have issued a Section 24 order on the Crown Office, demanding correspondence between the Scottish Government’s communications director Barbara Allison, and permanent secretary Leslie Evans, director of people Nicola Richards, or Judith Mackinnon – the investigating officer whose prior contact with complainers caused the probe to rendered unlawful.

The committee also wants to see all communication relating to the development and implementation of the harassment complaints policy used to investigate Salmond in a bid to establish if there is evidence of the claim it was “used to damage the reputation of Alex Salmond”.

 

Read the most recent article written by Andrew Learmonth - MSPs expected to confirm SNP leader as first minister

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