The Scottish Government is refusing to hand over documents relating to its botched investigation into harassment claims against Alex Salmond citing legal reasons.
In a submission to Holyrood, Nicola Sturgeon’s administration used its right to legal privilege to explain why some court documents relating to the case will not be seen by MSPs.
The submission was made to the Holyrood committee set up to examine why the Scottish Government’s investigation into the claims was successfully challenged in court by the former first minister.
Allegations of sexual harassment made against Mr Salmond, dating from when he was first minister, were investigated by the Scottish Government in 2018.
However, Mr Salmond successfully pursued a judicial review, which found the Scottish Government’s investigation was biased and unlawful.
Since then an MSPs’ committee, which will start taking evidence shortly, was set up to look into the case, which resulted in the taxpayer receiving a bill of £512,250 for Mr Salmond’s legal costs.
The 11-page document submitted to the committee by the government pointed out that some documents relating to the judicial review were “the property of the court and cannot be disclosed by the Scottish Government”.
It also argued that “legal professional privilege” restricts what could be handed over:
“The Scottish Government asserts its privilege over all communications it holds about or in relation to legal advice to the Scottish Government and litigation involving the Scottish Government,” the document said.
“That is not to say that the Scottish Government will not give a full account of its legal position at various points, just that, in accordance with usual practice, it will not disclose the internal processes of taking and receiving advice or the scope and nature of any requests for legal advice or any legal advice provided.”
The Government’s submissions also confirmed the government had acknowledged problems with its own investigation in December 2018 and should concede the judicial review proceedings and pay costs.
The documents acknowledged there was an “apparent bias issue” because the investigating officer had dealings with the complainers before she was put in charge of the Scottish Government’s inquiry,
The document said: “Having regard to the totality of the Investigating Officer’s dealings with the complainers before her appointment as Investigating Officer, the reasonable observer would conclude that there was a real possibility that she could not act impartially as she was required to do by the procedure.
“The Permanent Secretary therefore concluded on 2 January 2019 that the Scottish Government should concede the judicial review proceedings because of the apparent bias issue.”
This evasiveness on the part of the Scottish Government does not serve them, or the people of Scotland, well. This saga has already cost the taxpayer more than £500,000. It is a slap in the face to not allow the Parliamentary inquiry access to unredacted versions of these documents.”
Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton
Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Lib Dem MSP who sits on the committee, was critical of the Scottish Government’s approach to the Holyrood investigation.
Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “This evasiveness on the part of the Scottish Government does not serve them, or the people of Scotland, well.
“This saga has already cost the taxpayer more than £500,000. It is a slap in the face to not allow the Parliamentary inquiry access to unredacted versions of these documents.
“The First Minister should acknowledge where the public interest lies and order unredacted versions of these documents to be handed over.”
A Scottish Conservative spokesman said: “This committee is going to be vitally important in scrutinising exactly what went on in this case.
“Transparency is absolutely key to ensuring the wider public know exactly what went on.
“We would hope that will be fully considered by the Government in any requests for evidence going forward from the committee.”