Alex Salmond affair starting to look like an abuse of power – Kenny MacAskill

The actions of the authorities after Alex Salmond was acquitted of sexual allegations raise serious questions, writes Kenny MacAskill.

Alex Salmond speaks outside the High Court in Edinburgh after he was cleared of series of sexual assaults (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)
Alex Salmond speaks outside the High Court in Edinburgh after he was cleared of series of sexual assaults (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)

The fallout from the Alex Salmond case continues. Whilst courts have been shutting, the Crown has been moving at speed against individuals accused of commenting on it. Such has been the concern that it’s now generated global interest, with the likes of Noam Chomsky and Yanis Varoufakis questioning what’s going on. Hardly surprising as it’s looking, as lawyers say, “harsh and oppressive”.

It seems almost anything could be said about Alex Salmond without a “by your leave” from the Crown. I saw as flagrant a breach as I’ve ever seen in one mainstream media outlet but, hey ho, not a problem for the Crown. Similarly, when a witness’s name was accidentally disclosed by a professional journalist, not a problem either. These things happen, or so the Crown seems to suggest.

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But social bloggers and those who supported Salmond were quite another matter and have been pursued during and after the case. Two court cases are pending, and little can be said about them. However, other actions can be commented on and I wrote to the Lord Advocate and the Chief Constable about them. Both acknowledged receipt but the former replied on behalf of both. As good a bodyswerve by the Chief Constable as I’ve seen in a long time. No wonder, as it’s clear from the answer, that direction was from the Crown; the police simply doing their duty, guvnor.

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Nine people, as at 29 May, had been spoken to by Police Scotland, on the direct instructions of the Crown Office, pertaining to publications during and after the case. What of it you might say? Well firstly, why no actions in those flagrant breaches above or don’t they matter?

Secondly, it’s hardly the norm. It’s almost twice as many as for all other cases so far this year, where there’s only been another five. It’s hardly a common occurrence either as nine is greater than the number spoken to in all bar one year since 2015. Indeed in 2017 only one case was recorded.

There’s also the issue of contempt of court cases that have been brought, which is the charge facing the former Ambassador Craig Murray. I asked the Crown how many such cases, relating to publication or disclosure of proceedings, had been brought on an annual basis since 1999. Not hard you might have thought, they’d be few and the Crown keep meticulous records, as we’ve seen.

But apparently not. The response was they “do not keep” them. Yet, surprisingly, the same information’s readily available in England and Wales, and a matter of public record. Numbers there were limited, and Scotland could expect to have far less even than its Barnett share. Given that I’m led to believe that it may not even be a handful here, you’d have thought they’d know or as I’ve suggested in a reply to them that it’ll be within the organisation’s collective memory. They tend to be rather high-profile cases and senior officials are usually keen to remember them. All this because of the proclaimed desire to protect the identity of witnesses. In 20 years as a defence agent and the same again in political office, I’ve never seen a response like it. Indeed, I’ve sadly seen citizens who did their duty but live in peripheral schemes, left to their own devices, some have even had to move house without a finger being lifted by the Crown to help them.

This affair started with a civil case where a High Court judge held that the actions of the Scottish Government were “unlawful” and “tainted by apparent bias”. Notwithstanding that, the brazen Permanent Secretary, our most senior and supposedly impartial public servant, swore they’d lost the battle but not the war.

The Lord Advocate was then and remains the senior government legal advisor. He attended or was privy to many meetings concerning this case. Though he recused himself from the criminal trial, it was after earlier advising that police be contacted. Additionally, the Crown Agent, an underling of his, offered the Police Scotland investigation team the Permanent Secretary’s report. Yes, the “tainted” one.

And still it continues, are the Crown acting as Government lawyers or impartial prosecutors? This isn’t just an abuse of process; it’s looking like an abuse of power.

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Kenny MacAskill is SNP MP for East Lothian

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