Edinburgh tram inquiry: External legal input ‘was not necessary’

Edinburgh trams. Picture: Lesley Martin
Edinburgh trams. Picture: Lesley Martin
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The decision not to get independent legal advice on the infrastructure contract for the Capital’s tram project was because it was “not necessary” and there being “insufficient time”, the tram inquiry has heard.

Former council solicitor Gill Lindsay said bringing in an external firm could have delayed the procurement process as they would lack knowledge about the project’s history and complexity.

Ms Lindsay, now semi-retired, said she disagreed with calls to disengage from DLA Piper – the same legal firm used by tram firm TIE – as she felt the council and TIE’s interests were aligned.

It follows earlier evidence from Colin Mackenzie, a retired principal solicitor, that he and other colleagues were overruled after they called for independent scrutiny.

Ms Lindsay told the inquiry: “My view was that to consider another firm of solicitors to come into a live procurement, it would have been virtually impossible as they wouldn’t have known the original contract documents.

“They wouldn’t have understood the contract suite. They wouldn’t have known on which way the preferred bidders were being chosen or had been chosen.

“There was really no possibility of bringing in another firm of solicitors into a live procurement exercise.”

She said another factor was that of time, with counsel inquiry Euan Mackenzie QC then asking: “So was your position at the time that independent legal advice was unnecessary, or that there wasn’t sufficient time, or both?”

Ms Lindsay responded: “I would say was not necessary, and in the context of there being insufficient time.”

The inquiry, chaired by Lord Hardie, heard from Ms Lindsay as it finished its eighth week of public hearings. It aims to establish why the trams were delivered late, over budget and on a truncated route.

Ms Lindsay, who was council solicitor from February 2004 until she left the local authority in August 2010, was also asked about earlier evidence from Nick Smith, a colleague of Mr Mackenzie in the council’s legal team.

Mr Smith described being given the “impossible task” of reviewing 1000 pages in 36 hours, adding he was not prepared to review the contract as he lacked the necessary expertise.

The inquiry heard Mr Mackenzie fully understood his colleague’s stance and that he too was not prepared to review and advise on the contract.

However, when asked about the issue Ms Lindsay said she had not been aware of the men taking such a stance.

She told the inquiry: “No, it wasn’t communicated to me in any way and it certainly is not consistent with the further discussions that we had in respect of the project.

“I was wholly unaware that there was any decision that they weren’t going to get involved in the contract.

“Colin Mackenzie didn’t advise at any point that there was such principled stand that had been taken.”

The inquiry continues.

Questions over address provision

A former council solicitor has come under fire for declining to disclose her personal details when the Edinburgh tram inquiry was first set up.

The inquiry, chaired by Lord Hardie, was initially set up as a non-statutory process in June 2014. Lord Hardie explained his team contacted the council’s legal department for the names and details of individuals who might be of interest.

Among those was former council solicitor Gill Lindsay, who gave evidence on Friday. The inquiry was read a letter from the council to Ms Lindsay, sent in August 2014 and requesting her home address.

However, Ms Lindsay wrote back saying she would not, on the grounds of privacy, and that she wanted no “further correspondence” on the issue.

Lord Hardie said: “As a result of that, and other refusals, are you aware that I had to seek statutory powers for the Inquiry to secure the co-operation of people?”

“Do you accept that it might appear to some people that your initial reaction was that you weren’t prepared to co-operate?” She responded: “It certainly wasn’t the case. And I apologise now.”