Alex Salmond appearance at harassment inquiry in doubt amid row over prosecution immunity

Alex Salmond's appearance in front of the harassment committee has been thrown into doubt amid an escalating row around whether he will be protected from prosecution.
Alex Salmond will be open to prosecution if he breaks the law while giving evidence at the Salmond InquiryAlex Salmond will be open to prosecution if he breaks the law while giving evidence at the Salmond Inquiry
Alex Salmond will be open to prosecution if he breaks the law while giving evidence at the Salmond Inquiry

A letter from Mr Salmond’s solicitors at Levy and McRae to the Salmond inquiry and seen by The Scotsman also accuses the committee of “wholly unacceptable conduct” following the decision by the former first minister to decline to give evidence on Tuesday.

The letter adds that Mr Salmond is “currently unable to discharge in full” his responsibility to offer evidence under oath “without fear of prosecution”.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Mr Salmond had requested “binding assurances” from the Lord Advocate, James Wolffe QC, that he would not be prosecuted if he gave evidence.

It is understood the Crown Office believes there to be no legal basis for any assurances of immunity from prosecution for Mr Salmond’s appearance before the committee.

The letter throws into doubt whether Mr Salmond will appear in front of the committee at any stage without an agreement that he will not be prosecuted for mentioning evidence disclosed to him as part of the defence for his criminal trial.

The committee is examining the botched handling of harassment complaints against Mr Salmond, which led to a £500,000 legal bill for the Scottish Government after it conceded a judicial review action brought by the former first minister on the grounds of “apparent bias”.

Mr Salmond was acquitted of sexual offence charges in a high profile trial in March 2020.

The letter from David McKie states: “Our client is currently unable to discharge in full his responsibility to give complete evidence to your committee and its members without fear of prosecution.

“We understand the position to be that our client must tell ‘the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’ under threat of a charge of perjury if he does not do so. Is that your understanding?

"If so, how do you propose he does so when that inevitably involves reference to material in the criminal proceedings and when doing so leaves him open to prosecution?

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“In short, when you write that our client cannot share confidential information from the criminal trial in giving answers, how do you propose he fulfils his oath?”

In a stinging rebuke towards the conduct of the committee, the letter labels Mr Salmond’s treatment as “wholly unacceptable”.

It continues: “He has told you where to recover evidence to help you and also to ensure that, when he comes to give his evidence, it can be given as openly and fully as possible without fear of him breaching court orders or, worse still, prosecution.

"You have given him no reassurance or assistance on any of these matters other than to insist very publicly that he turns up in breach of parliamentary guidelines.

"That is wholly unacceptable conduct towards a witness who is a private citizen and who has offered unprecedented help and co-operation to your inquiry at his own expense. We ask you to reflect on that before issuing further public criticism of him.”

It adds: “Finally, your letter references a lack of ‘respect’ on the part of our client. That is unhelpful and unfair. In fact, it is our client who has been left repeatedly disappointed at the lack of courtesy shown to him for many months throughout this process.”

A Scottish Parliament spokesperson said: “While there is rightly a strong presumption against committees meeting in person, the Presiding Officer understands that there may be a small number of circumstances where essential committee business cannot be effectively undertaken by any means other than meeting in person.

“As the convener made clear to Mr Salmond’s solicitor, the committee would be happy to work with Mr Salmond to find a way to allow him to give evidence in a safe and secure way.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“The committee will meet in private next Tuesday to consider its work programme, including Mr Salmond’s latest response. However, the committee is clear that all evidence to it must comply with the relevant legal obligations.”

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.