Alex Salmond is threatening legal action against the Scottish Government to prevent it from handing over evidence to the Holyrood inquiry investigating the handling of harassment claims against him.
The former first minister’s lawyers said the government had indicated it intended to produce submissions to the inquiry which in their view represented “a clear breach of court orders and undertakings”.
In a letter to MSPs conducting the Holyrood inquiry, Mr Salmond’s lawyers claimed production of the submissions would have “constituted a clear contempt of court”.
Some material which the government had indicated to us it intended to produce, as part of its submissions, in our view represented a clear breach of court orders and undertakings. It would consequently have constituted a clear contempt of court.”
Alex Salmond’s lawyer
The letter from David McKie of Levy McRae said the government had been told that the lawyers would “return to court” on Mr Salmond’s behalf if there was an attempt to breach court rulings.
The letter also accused the Scottish Government of a “data breach” to a newspaper and demanded an investigation into the alleged leak, saying it should be reported to the ICO, the UK independent body set up to uphold information rights.
Mr McKie’s letter said: “Some material which the government had indicated to us it intended to produce, as part of its submissions, in our view represented a clear breach of court orders and undertakings. It would consequently have constituted a clear contempt of court. We informed the Scottish Government last month that we would return to court on behalf of our client if they attempted to breach court rulings or undertakings.”
The controversy over the release of information to the Holyrood inquiry has been a long-running sore. The Scottish Government has come under fire from a different direction with committee members attacking it for failing to make documents available.
The Holyrood inquiry was launched after Mr Salmond successfully took the Scottish Government to the Court of Session. The court found that the Scottish Government’s own internal investigations into complaints made against Mr Salmond when he was first minister was “tainted with apparent bias”.
The botched Scottish Government investigation into the claims against Mr Salmond cost the taxpayer more than £500,000 for the ex-SNP leader’s legal fees.
Last month Deputy First Minister John Swinney told MSPs the Government would be releasing more evidence about its investigation into the complaints to the Holyrood inquiry.
Mr Swinney said this included telling “any named individual whose personal data” was included in the files of their “legal right to object”. The deputy first minister said one person had objected.
Later the Daily Record published a report suggesting Mr Salmond was behind the objection. Mr McKie claimed the newspaper article suggested Mr Salmond was objecting to papers the Holyrood committee had asked for, adding: “He was not.”
Salmond’s call for a leak investigation
In a separate letter to the Scottish Government, Mr Salmond’s lawyers said the material referred to in the newspaper article related “exclusively” to a letter of August 18 marked “private and confidential”.
“The data breach is a clear contravention of the law. We are appalled that correspondence with the Scottish Government on matters as sensitive as those involved in this case cannot be sent with any confidence that they will be treated appropriately and in good faith,” Mr McKie said.
“Furthermore, the breach appears to have been selective and deliberately misleading. It has resulted in a highly defamatory and misleading article being published about our client. That, doubtless, was the intention.
“We therefore ask you undertake an immediate investigation and to identify all parties who received a copy of our letter. That will assist in identifying the source of the data breach. Please confirm that you will report this clear data breach to the ICO immediately. If not, please set out the basis for your refusal to do so.”
In his letter to the committee, Mr McKie said Mr Salmond was not attempting to block papers being released, as suggested in the article, and was prepared to share the letter confidentially with the committee if asked.
He added: “Our client’s position is clear – he seeks to facilitate the maximum lawful disclosure of documents whilst respecting and, if necessary, enforcing the orders of the court.
“In contrast, the Government appears prepared to risk contempt of court by offering documents the committee has not asked for, while simultaneously refusing to provide the committee with material it has asked for and can lawfully provide, such as the external legal advice on the judicial review.”
Labour committee member Jackie Baillie said: “If it is true that the Scottish Government leaked sensitive information to the Daily Record newspaper then there are serious questions for senior members of the government to answer.
“By practising evasion and now leaking, the Scottish Government is neither covering itself in glory nor acting as a government should.
“It seems that the Scottish Government’s default mode of operation is cloak and dagger. This is not acceptable and must end.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We have already replied to Levy & McRae to say we have no evidence of any leak of their client’s data or correspondence on this matter from the Scottish Government.
“The Scottish Government has cooperated fully with the Committee and will continue to do so.”