Alex Salmond committee to discuss court ruling on evidence

Laura Paterson, PA Scotland
·4-min read

The Alex Salmond inquiry committee has called a meeting to discuss a court judgment about the former first minister’s evidence.

Mr Salmond was expected to appear before the Holyrood committee investigating the Scottish Government’s botched handling of sexual harassment complaints against him on Tuesday, but he declined to do so after it failed to publish evidence he submitted.

The committee voted not to publish the submission or a redacted version of it, citing legal concerns over orders to protect the anonymity of complainers.

But a judge has now amended a court order which prevents the publication of information likely to identify any of the accusers in the Salmond trial to clarify its scope.

The committee has now decided to hold a meeting on Friday to discuss the ruling, while Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Labour claim this paves the way for Mr Salmond to give evidence before it.

A Scottish Parliament spokeswoman said: “The Committee has agreed to meet tomorrow to discuss the potential impact on the inquiry once Lady Dorrian’s judgment has been properly considered by the Parliament’s legal advisers and those of the former first minister.

“The Committee notes Mr Salmond’s wish that he attend to give evidence”.

Opposition politicians have called for an emergency meeting of the Alex Salmond inquiry committee, claiming changes to a court order mean the former first minister can now appear to give evidence.

It is understood Mr Salmond’s legal team wrote to the committee intending to resubmit the evidence following the publication of the reasons for the decision, with a view to appearing in front of the committee next week.

The committee was set up after he received a £512,000 payout following the Court of Session civil ruling that the Scottish Government’s handling of the complaints was “unlawful” and “tainted by apparent bias”.

Judge Lady Dorrian told a hearing at the High Court in Edinburgh on Thursday she would add “as such complainers in those proceedings” to the contempt order relating to the criminal trial.

The former first minister was cleared of 13 charges, including sexual assault, indecent assault and attempted rape, following a trial at the same court last year.

The Spectator magazine, which published the evidence submission which the committee declined to, applied to the court to vary the terms of the order.

Ronald Clancy QC, acting for the magazine, argued the order is having a “significant influence” on how the committee is operating.

He said: “There is a reasonable inference that the terms of the order have influenced the committee’s decision on what can and cannot be published.”

He added there is a “perfectly legitimate public interest” in publishing Mr Salmond’s submission and another unpublished submission, but said the committee’s position is redaction will not avoid the risk of jigsaw identification.

Salmond inquiry committee
The committee is examining the handling of harassment allegations against former first minister Alex Salmond (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Lady Dorrian said: “If it is felt that decision is wrong, the remedy is to approach the committee.”

Mr Clancy said that will “get us nowhere” and the only way to deal with the issue is through clarification of the order, claiming it is in danger of being misunderstood and being applied too widely.

He added: “We have a positive indication from the committee that they are interested in clarification of the scope of the order.”

Advocate depute Alex Prentice QC, for the Crown, said: “The order in this, in my submission, advances the purpose for which it was applied.”

However, he said he did not oppose the change to the wording “for greater clarity”.

Lady Dorrian announced the change to the order and said she would make a written submission on her reasons for doing so, which will be published by the beginning of next week.

Murdo Fraser
Scottish Conservative Murdo Fraser said the change means the committee has ‘grounds to compel Salmond to attend’ (PA)

Scottish Conservative spokesman on the Salmond inquiry Murdo Fraser said: “We have been saying from the outset that our committee will not be able to do its job properly unless we are able to question Alex Salmond in person.

“While we await the full details of the revised order and what implications it will have, I am satisfied that we now have grounds to compel Salmond to attend.”

Fellow committee member Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s interim leader, said: “This decision presents the committee with the opportunity to publish the evidence and question Mr Salmond, we must seize that opportunity with both hands.

“I have called for an emergency meeting of the committee tomorrow and I hope that colleagues will allow publication of the evidence and invite Mr Salmond to attend in person.

“Failure to seize this opportunity would be most unfortunate for the credibility of the committee and its work.”