Alex Salmond has signalled he may defy MSPs’ calls to appear next week before the Holyrood inquiry examining the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints against him.
A letter from Mr Salmond’s lawyer “calls into question the likelihood” of the former first minister giving evidence to the investigation on January 19, despite being asked to do so.
The letter from David McKie of Levy & McRae argues that the withholding of documents from the inquiry leaves Mr Salmond in an untenable position when it comes to telling the truth under oath.
Mr McKie also questions how Mr Salmond can appear in person with the current Covid restrictions that are in place given he has an “underlying health condition”. Mr Salmond has suffered from asthma.
Our client is now effectively being forced into a position of being asked to take an oath to tell the ‘truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’, but being simultaneously advised by those acting in the name of the Lord Advocate that he would be committing a criminal offence if he does so. That cannot be a tenable position.”
Alex Salmond’s lawyer, David McKie
The letter, dated January 8, was published as it emerged that Mr Salmond had been called by the Holyrood committee conducting the inquiry to appear in a week’s time.
Mr McKie’s letter said Mr Salmond was “extremely frustrated” at the time and effort spent directing the committee towards “highly relevant information” without which MSPs “in all probability” would be unable to reach a meaningful conclusion.
The letter referred to “key material” arising from the criminal case taken against Mr Salmond and the civil case in which he successfully sued the Scottish Government.
Cleared of all charges
At the beginning of last year Mr Salmond was cleared of all sexual offence charges at the conclusion of a criminal trial.
Mr Salmond also took the Scottish Government to the civil courts with his victory resulting in the taxpayer paying out more than £500,000 for his legal costs.
At the Court of Session it was found that the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment claims made against the former first minister were unlawful and tainted with apparent bias.
In November last year, the Crown Office refused to hand over documents relating to Mr Salmond’s criminal trial to the Holyrood committee, arguing there was no legal basis to do so.
The Crown Office also warned that Mr Salmond would be breaking the law if he shared documents relating to the trial with the committee. A dossier of documents was passed to Mr Salmond’s legal team as part of the trial’s disclosure process.
‘That cannot be a tenable position’
In his letter Mr McKie renewed calls for the committee to help get access to the documents.
Mr McKie said: “Our client is now effectively being forced into a position of being asked to take an oath to tell the ‘truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’, but being simultaneously advised by those acting in the name of the Lord Advocate that he would be committing a criminal offence if he does so. That cannot be a tenable position.
“We respectfully submit that it remains in your power to avoid those two issues. Your recovery of key material from both the civil case and the criminal case would have the dual benefit of allowing our client to give a complete account while eliminating any risk of his breaching court orders inadvertently when giving his evidence. There is no legal reason we can think of which would prevent you from seeking its recovery.”
Our client has written separately to your Clerk to establish how, realistically, an evidence session in person is going to be possible given current restrictions, given that he has an underlying health condition.”
Alex Salmond’s lawyer, David McKie
Mr McKie went on to say the issues “clearly call into question the likelihood of our client being able to give evidence on January 19”.
Mr McKie added: “Furthermore, our client has written separately to your Clerk to establish how, realistically, an evidence session in person is going to be possible given current restrictions, given that he has an underlying health condition.
“There would be considerable media attention, as there was at his trial and during the judicial review. Managing that attention in the current health environment will be a matter for careful consideration.”
Ms Fabiani said the committee appreciated he would like to access evidence from the trial but she added that the committee needed to finish taking evidence soon in order to complete the inquiry before the election.
Ms Fabiani said: “The committee is now in the position where if it does not complete evidence taking in the very near future it may not be able to report to parliament in advance of purdah rules coming into force.
“The committee must fulfil the task that parliament has set it and that must include reporting its findings on this important inquiry before the committee is disbanded in advance of the general election. On that basis, January 19 is the date that is being offered to you.”