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by Jenni Davidson
13 November 2020
Scottish Government fails to meet deadline for releasing legal advice in Alex Salmond case

John Swinney - Image credit: Scottish government flickr

Scottish Government fails to meet deadline for releasing legal advice in Alex Salmond case

The Scottish Government has failed to meet a deadline for releasing the legal advice it received in the Alex Salmond judicial review.

The committee looking into the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints against Salmond had given the government until Friday 13 November to publish the information.

This followed a motion passed by MSPs in the Scottish Parliament on 4 November calling on the Scottish Government to publish all the legal advice it received as part of the judicial review of the investigation into the alleged behaviour of the former first minister.

But in a letter to the committee, Deputy First Minister John Swinney simply said he was “considering the implications” of the motion to waive legal professional privilege (LPP), which means that such advice is normally kept confidential.

Swinney said he would need the consent of the law officers to release the advice and consent would only be given if there were “compelling reasons” to do so, so he could not give a specific timescale for when this would be confirmed.

He added: “I should emphasise that, even if a decision was taken to waive LPP on the legal advice relating to the judicial review, further work would be required to implement that waiver.

“Documents already provided to the committee, and those prepared for disclosure in the near future, which contain redactions because of LPP would need to be reviewed to remove the LPP redactions and add any redactions needed to protect the identities of the complainers or to comply with data protection law.

“This would need to be factored in to the time it would take to share relevant documents with the committee if LPP was waived.”

His response has angered some opposition members of the committee.

Scottish Conservative spokesman on the Salmond inquiry Murdo Fraser said: “The SNP are taking something that was already a scandal – losing £500,000 of taxpayers’ money – and they’re now throwing our entire parliamentary system into disrepute.  

“They are defying the will of the Scottish Parliament and ignoring a cross-party committee of MSPs headed by an SNP convener.

“For 18 months, they have deliberately blocked the committee’s work and dragged their feet handing over scraps of information.

“Hiding evidence is the definition of a cover up and at this point, how can the government claim this is anything else?

“It’s an unlucky Friday the 13th for anyone who values accountability and transparency.”

Scottish Labour deputy leader and committee member Jackie Baillie said: “This is extraordinary.

“By failing to hand over the legal advice today the Deputy First Minister has shown utter contempt for the committee and the wishes of the Scottish Parliament.

“This is no longer mere obstruction. This is a democratic outrage.

“The committee is due to hear evidence from the Lord Advocate and the Permanent Secretary on Tuesday and will do so with one hand tied behind its back.

“The lengths to which the Scottish Government is willing to go to hide essential information from the Committee and protect its reputation are clear.

“The committee must show the same determination in uncovering the truth behind this sordid episode.”

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