I have nothing to fear from release of Salmond legal advice, Sturgeon insists

By Tom Eden, PA Scotland
·3-min read

Nicola Sturgeon has said she has “nothing to fear” from the legal advice given to ministers during the Alex Salmond civil case but refused to say if the Scottish Government will hand it over.

Scotland’s First Minister said her Cabinet is still considering whether to submit the guidance to the Holyrood committee investigating the Scottish Government’s botched handling of sexual harassment allegations against her predecessor.

The Scottish Parliament has twice voted for the legal advice to be handed over to MSPs on the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints.

Ms Sturgeon has recused herself from dealing with the information because she is a key witness to the parliamentary inquiry.

She said the Cabinet will decide whether they think releasing the information is “in the public interest” and insisted she will “abide by” their decision.

Ms Sturgeon refused to say whether she wanted the Scottish Parliament’s will to be respected and referenced the ministerial code’s instruction that legal advice should only be released in “exceptional circumstances”.

Asked if she would like the advice to be made public, Ms Sturgeon told the BBC Good Morning Scotland programme: “I’ve got nothing to fear from everything being out there but there is a point of principle here.

“The Cabinet discussed this last week, I took myself out of that Cabinet discussion because I’m recused from these decisions, so it’s really important that I allow that process to take place.

“Because if I was to do some of the things that I’m being asked to around the legal advice on this – without that proper consideration – I would breach the ministerial code and then I’m sure the opposition would have something to say about that.”

The Court of Session found the Scottish Government’s investigation into the allegations was unlawful and “tainted with apparent bias” because investigating officer Judith Mackinnon had prior contact with two women who came forward with complaints.

Mr Salmond challenged the investigation in court and was awarded costs of £512,250 – the highest possible level – after the Scottish Government eventually conceded the case.

Ms Mackinnon is due to give evidence to the committee on Tuesday after being blocked from appearing last week by Deputy First Minister John Swinney.

The committee has repeatedly asked to see the legal advice but has been rebuffed by the Scottish Government.

Harassment allegation committee hearing
Linda Fabiani has limited the scope of the inquiry’s request for legal advice (Andrew Milligan/PA)

MSPs on the committee have expressed concern about the length of time it took ministers to concede the case after details emerged of the prior contact between the investigating officer and complainants.

According to the Scottish Government’s former legal director Paul Cackette, it first learned of the contact in October 2018 but the case was only conceded the following January,

Committee convener Linda Fabiani last week wrote to Mr Swinney to limit the scope of the request, clarifying the inquiry is only seeking legal advice on the chances of the Scottish Government winning the case in a bid to reduce the length of time it is taking to receive the advice.

Ms Fabiani said the release of part of the advice should not require “a lengthy process”.

In a letter to the Deputy First Minister on Thursday, the convener said: “At this stage, the priority for the committee is to receive copies of the written advice provided by counsel, in particular on the prospects of success.

“This advice should be clearly distinguishable and provided privilege is waived, not involve a lengthy process in order for it to be identified and provided to the committee.”