Alex Salmond wins legal battle over documents ahead of sexual misconduct hearing

Former First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond. Picture:: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Former First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond. Picture:: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
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Former first minister Alex Salmond has won a legal battle in his challenge against the Scottish Government’s handling of sexual misconduct complaints against him.

Lawyers for the 63-year-old politician went to the Court of Session on Friday to ask judge Lord Pentland to grant an order which would help them prepare their case.

Mr Salmond’s legal team have been given a number of redacted documents which detail how the Scottish Government dealt with the allegations.

They believe that the way civil servants handled the complaints was unfair to him and they want Scotland’s highest court to judicially review the processes used by government staff.

The court heard that the information was redacted because the women who made complaints against Mr Salmond were given assurances that their grievances would remain confidential.

The court also heard that these assurances were given on the basis that the complaints may not remain confidential in all legal circumstances.

His advocate Ronnie Clancy QC argued that the redacted data may contain information which could assist their case.

And he asked Lord Pentland to appoint a senior lawyer to examine whether the unredacted data should be disclosed to Mr Salmond’s legal team.

On Friday, Lord Pentland agreed to appoint advocate Morag Ross QC to the task.

He said that it was in the interest of justice that the assurances of confidentiality be set aside in order for Ms Ross to examine the documents.

Lord Pentland said: “I’m satisfied that the petitioners motion with regard to specification of documents should be granted. The court will appoint Morag Ross QC as commissioner.

“I’m satisfied that it is in the interests of justice for this to take place.”

Lord Pentland spoke at the end of a procedural hearing into the case. A full judicial review is due to take place early next year.

The review will examine the circumstances of how civil servants investigated two allegations of sexual harassment against the former first minister, which he denies.

A separate police investigation into the allegations is ongoing and will not be affected by the judicial review, which focuses entirely on the government’s processes.

The Scottish Government have said the complaints against Mr Salmond couldn’t be “ignored or swept under the carpet” and said it would “vigorously defend” its position.

Two complaints were made to the government in January 2018, shortly after it had set up a new process for handling allegations fo sexual harassment.

The complaints relate to alleged events in 2013 when Mr Salmond was first minister.

He said the subsequent investigation by the government was “unfair and unjust” and he quit the SNP whilst launching an online crowdfunding initiative to pay for the cost of the judicial review.

READ MORE: Court date set for Alex Salmond legal battle

The politician said he had been given no opportunity to “see and therefore to properly challenge” the case against him and that he had not been allowed to see the evidence.

On Friday, Mr Clancy told the court that he had received 300 documents relating to the investigation.

Mr Clancy said that several documents were redacted and may contain information which may show that the probe against Mr Salmond was unfair.

The advocate said that Mr Salmond alleges the investigations against him were unfair because the Scottish Government didn’t follow its own procedures.

He said that civil service guidelines show that staff who investigate harassment investigations should have had no prior contact with the people who have made the complaints.

READ MORE: Alex Salmond: I’ve made mistakes but never harassed anyone

Mr Clancy said the redacted documents show that Scottish Government staff were in contact with the complainers in December 2017 - one month before the start of the investigations against Mr Salmond.

The Scottish Government staff member who investigated the complaints was an “HR professional” called Judith McKinnon.

She met with the first woman on December 5 2017 and was in contact with the second woman two days later.

He said the redacted documents - which contain copies of emails and handwritten notes - provided no further information of what was discussed during meetings with the complainer.

The QC said that he should see the redacted data as it may contain information which shows that the process against Mr Salmond was unfair.

He added: “We need to see the material for ourselves.”

The Scottish Government’s lawyer Roddy Dunlop QC said that his clients maintained that it followed its own procedures correctly.

Mr Dunlop told Lord Pentland that the information contained within the redacted information wasn’t different to the information which was contained in the complaints made in January 2017.

He said that he was willing to provide an undertaking that this was the case and that this would result in Mr Clancy not having to see the unredacted material.

However, Mr Clancy refused to accept the offer.

He added: “It’s quite a remarkable turn of events given the guarded position that they have had up to now.

“I refuse to accept that offer without sight of these documents. We do need to see what Judith McKinnon’s knowledge was with regard to the case.

“We need to see if the information contained in these documents is substantially different to the information which was contained in the substantive complaint.”

Lord Pentland agreed to appoint Morag Ross to examine the unredacted information. She will decide on what data should be disclosed to Mr Salmond’s lawyers.

The full judicial hearing is scheduled to take place at the Court of Session on January 15 2019.