Alex Salmond's lawyers will not be ordered to hand over evidence, committee confirms

The Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish Government’s unlawful investigation of Alex Salmond will not order his lawyers to hand over evidence provided to the former first minister for his criminal trial defence.

But the parliamentary committee has also ordered the Crown Office to provide all correspondence involving senior government officials about the handling of complaints made about Mr Salmond.

During his appearance before the parliamentary committee, Mr Salmond suggested that MSPs could ask his legal team to hand over documents they had received as part of the court case.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Convener of the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, Linda Fabiani, has now written to his solicitors to suggest it would be unlawful to order them to release evidence.

Former first minister Alex Salmond appears before the inquiry. Picture: PA
Former first minister Alex Salmond appears before the inquiry. Picture: PA

Section 162 of the 2010 Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act prohibits the release of evidence provided to Mr Salmond for use in his criminal trial, which saw him cleared of 13 counts of sexual assault.

The former SNP leader argued the threat of prosecution by the Crown Office prevents him from sharing material directly with the committee that he claims proves there was a plot against him.

Mr Salmond therefore suggested the committee could still use powers under section 23 of the Scotland Act to compel his lawyers to release that information, and they would be willing to comply.

However, in a letter to Levy and McRae solicitors, Ms Fabiani said it “would not be appropriate” to use those powers “in a way that the Parliament has agreed would be unlawful”.

She said any further evidence they may have that was not disclosed for the purposes of preparing the defence for Mr Salmond’s criminal trial would be welcomed, with a deadline of Monday morning.

Rather than compelling Mr Salmond’s lawyers to provide the material, the Parliament has issued a new section 24 notice to the Crown Office, demanding it provides correspondence between the Scottish Government’s communications director, Barbara Allison, and Permanent Secretary, Leslie Evans, director of people, Nicola Richards, or Judith Mackinnon – the investigating officer whose prior contact with complainers fundamentally jeopardised the lawfulness of the investigation into Mr Salmond.

The committee has said it wants to see all communication relating to the development and implementation of the harassment complaints policy used to investigate Mr Salmond and the handling of the allegations under the procedure.

The order states the committee is seeking to establish whether there is evidence to support the claim the harassment complaints procedure was used to damage the reputation of Mr Salmond.

Commenting on the decison to order the Crown Office to release documents, Scottish Conservative committee member Murdo Fraser said: “We are determined to use every means at our disposal to establish why Nicola Sturgeon’s government recklessly pursued an unlawful course of action in defiance of clear legal advice.

“She and the SNP have done everything possible to block transparency and prevent the public finding out why female complainers were so badly failed, costing taxpayers at least £600,000.”

The botched handling of harassment complaints against Mr Salmond led to a £500,000 legal bill after the government conceded a judicial review challenge on grounds the process was “tainted by apparent bias”.

Mr Salmond was also acquitted of sexual offence charges in a trial last year.