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by Andrew Learmonth
09 March 2021
Swinney promises to release 'email exchanges' relating to Salmond legal case

Swinney promises to release 'email exchanges' relating to Salmond legal case

JOHN Swinney has promised to release “email exchanges” about two key meetings between Nicola Sturgeon and Scottish Government lawyers to discuss Alex Salmond’s legal challenge over the handling of harassment complaints against him.

But the Deputy First Minister has said the government does not hold "formal minutes" of the summits.

Labour's Jackie Baillie said the claim was "frankly laughable."

Sturgeon, and the Scottish Government permanent secretary, Leslie Evans, met external legal advisers to discuss the judicial review on November 2 and 13, 2018.

MSPs on the cross-party harassment committee last week asked for any official records of the meetings.

In a letter to convenor, Linda Fabiani, Swinney said that while the government “does not hold formal minutes of meetings with Counsel” officials had “identified a small number of contemporaneous email exchanges referencing” meetings on November 2 and 13.

“This includes exchanges following the meeting on 2 November and emails ahead of the meeting on 13 November 2018, attended by the First Minister and Permanent Secretary.

“These exchanges make clear that the focus of the meetings was on discussing and agreeing with external Counsel adjustments to the pleadings for the judicial review.”

Swinney said the government would publish these email exchanges “as soon as possible this week”.

He also said that while there were “no further formal written notes from Counsel on 31 December 2018 or thereafter” there was “extensive engagement” while the government prepared to concede the case in early January.

Baillie, who sits on the committee, was sceptical. She said: “This letter is the latest example of the obstruction that this committee has faced from the start. This drip, drip, drip of partial information, at the last minute, is simply unacceptable.

“The idea that no notes were taken of several important meetings with counsel, including one with the First Minister and Permanent Secretary, is frankly laughable. It would have been nothing short of professional misconduct for those involved not to take notes.

"The Scottish Government need to stop the secrecy and pass over all the legal advice or people will think they have something to hide."

Papers published last week revealed that the government had persisted with the legal battle despite increasing warnings from their external counsel.

In a note to ministers, Roddy Dunlop QC and Christine O’Neil said they needed the First Minister and others to be "absolutely certain that they wish us to plough on regardless" given the "potential for harm".

The cross-party committee is investigating the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints made against the former first minister by two civil servants.

Salmond had the civil service probe set aside in a judicial review.

During the process it emerged that the investigating officer had had substantial contact with the two complainants.

In the Court of Session, Lord Pentland said that rendered the investigation “unlawful” and “tainted by bias”.

Legal advice released last week revealed that lawyers had first warned ministers of difficulties with the case on September 26 2018.

By December 6, external counsel Roddy Dunlop QC and Solicitor Advocate Christine O’Neill advised that the “least worst option” would be to give up.

However, Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC, the Government’s senior law officer, said there was “no question of conceding”.

By December 17, the external counsel warned there were “potentially disastrous repercussions” in continuing.

They said: “Given the potential for harm, we simply wish all concerned – and we include the First Minister in this – to be absolutely certain that they wish us to plough on regardless notwithstanding the concerns which we have outlined.”

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

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