Spectator magazine set for crucial legal action linked to Alex Salmond evidence to harassment complaints inquiry

The legality of publishing Alex Salmond’s submission to Holyrood's harassment complaints committee is set to be tested in the High Court tomorrow.

A key court action could hold the key to Alex Salmond appearing in front of the harassment complaints committee
A key court action could hold the key to Alex Salmond appearing in front of the harassment complaints committee

It is understood an application by The Spectator is seeking a ruling that would erase any doubt over the publication of the former first minister's submission to the inquiry.

Committee members have called for an urgent meeting of the inquiry should the Spectator’s application succeed.

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The evidence – first revealed by The Times – has been available on The Spectator’s website in full for several weeks.

However, the Scottish Parliamentary inquiry tasked with examining the complaints process voted narrowly on Tuesday to block its publication, including with any appropriate redactions.

The legal action on Thursday is also understood to potentially clear one of the hurdles stopping Mr Salmond appearing in front of the committee. A positive ruling in favour of The Spectator would likely put pressure on the committee to publish his submission in full.

It could also lead the committee to publishing the submission from Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, which was blocked from publication by parliamentary lawyers.

The failure of the committee to publish Mr Salmond’s submission is understood to be the major barrier stopping him from attending. However, concerns over being liable to prosecution after giving evidence is an issue yet to be solved.

Reacting to the legal action, Scottish Labour’s member on the inquiry, Jackie Baillie, said an urgent meeting should be held if the action is successful. This is understood to be backed by at least one other committee member.

Ms Baillie said: “If the court allows The Spectator to publish the material, then the committee should have an emergency meeting to review whether it publishes too.

“In that eventuality, it makes no sense for the committee to tie its own hands behind its back by refusing to make use of the submission and have the chance to question Mr Salmond.

“The committee is duty-bound to do all it can to get to the reasons why the Scottish Government’s procedures were so badly flawed and why the women involved were so badly failed – to do so, we must have all the evidence available and the chance to question Mr Salmond.

“The credibility of the committee and its work hangs in the balance. If The Spectator’s legal challenge is successful, then the committee must seize the opportunity to question Mr Salmond.”

However, committee convener Linda Fabiani yesterday appeared to close the door on Mr Salmond’s potential appearance following the vote not to publish his submission.

It is understood Mr Salmond will hold a press conference – most likely next week – if he does not appear in front of the committee.

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

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

Nicola Sturgeon is expected to give evidence in front of the committee next week, although the final details about her appearance are still being finalised.

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