Analysis: Lord Advocate to face Salmond inquiry amid cries of Crown Office corruption

The Crown Office is facing a period of intense pressure amongst concerted political attacks on its integrity and its independence from the Scottish Government.

Lord Advocate James Wolffe is expected to give evidence to the Salmond Inquiry on Tuesday.

Amid the political drama of Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon’s appearances in front of the harassment complaints committee, the Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC will once again answer questions from MSPs.

The dual role of the Lord Advocate, as head of the Crown Office and Cabinet member as law officer and main legal adviser, is under exceptional scrutiny from political opponents of the First Minister.

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The charges against Mr Wolffe are numerous and he is one of the few individuals Mr Salmond said on Friday should resign or, at the very least, “consider his position”.

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The former first minister’s attacks on the Crown were not institutional – this he made clear – but they were highly personal. "We should not confuse institutional failure with personnel,” he said.

Accusing the Crown of ‘obstructing’ the committee, Mr Salmond placed the blame at the foot of its leadership.

The belief permeating through Mr Salmond’s evidence is that he was targeted as a political foe by those within the SNP and within the Scottish Government, aided by a Crown Office kowtowed by political influence.

It is the latter of these that will be the subject of forensic scrutiny on Tuesday.

The facts are that Mr Wolffe heads the organisation that brought ultimately unsuccessful criminal charges against Mr Salmond.

He is also the Scottish Government’s main legal adviser – the man who is ultimately responsible for legal advice to the Cabinet and who had an integral role in the decision to continue with the judicial review.

During the inquiry, the Crown has been less than helpful.

It refused to hand over evidence until the unprecedented use of Holyrood’s powers under the Scotland Act, a drama reprised following Mr Salmond’s allegations of further text messages which prove a conspiracy against him.

It has also acted on concerns around potential contempt of court breaches linked to the criminal trial, most explosively in its intervention around the former first minister’s evidence on the ministerial code last week.

The Crown has also issued several threats of potential prosecution to Mr Salmond under section 162 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010, which makes illegal any further use of information disclosed to an individual during a criminal trial.

MSPs will probe the central accusation permeating each of these actions, which suggest the Crown is subject to political influence, blurring the lines between government and the courts.

Mr Wolffe’s involvement in the decision to keep secret external legal advice on the judicial review will also be examined.

The question is whether Mr Wolffe will offer any substantive answers to the committee.

Amid political attacks and consistent undermining of Scotland’s institutions, there is a requirement for openness from the Lord Advocate to rebuild trust that goes beyond traditional norms.

In an earlier appearance in November, his most common response was that answering pertinent questions was “not consistent with the law officer convention”.

Following calls for his resignation and for a refresh at the head of key Scottish Government institutions, it will not be acceptable to MSPs to hear a repeat.

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