Nicola Sturgeon did not breach ministerial code, investigation concludes

Tom Eden, PA Scotland
·3-min read

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon did not breach the ministerial code, an independent inquiry has concluded.

An investigation by James Hamilton QC found she did not breach the code in relation to allegations she failed to record meetings with her predecessor Alex Salmond and others in 2018.

He also examined the allegations that Ms Sturgeon misled Parliament in relation to the meetings and attempted to influence the Scottish Government’s investigation into harassment complaints against Mr Salmond , again finding there was no breach of the code.

Regarding claims she failed to comply with Scottish Government legal advice to the former first minister’s civil action, Mr Hamilton said she did not break the code.

Ms Sturgeon said she welcomed the “comprehensive, evidence-based and unequivocal” conclusion that she did not breach the code, adding: “I sought at every stage in this issue to act with integrity and in the public interest.”

Mr Hamilton, the former director of public prosecutions in the Republic of Ireland, is the independent adviser the Scottish Government on the ministerial code – a set of rules about how ministers should conduct themselves.

His report stated: “I am of the opinion that the First Minister did not breach the provisions of the ministerial code in respect of any of these matters.”

Ms Sturgeon referred herself to the independent advisor on the ministerial code following Mr Salmond’s successful legal challenge of the Scottish Government’s unlawful investigation, which led to him winning more than £500,000 in court.

Mr Hamilton’s investigation was paused in early 2019 to avoid prejudicing criminal proceedings brought against Mr Salmond.

He was acquitted of 13 charges, including sexual assault, indecent assault and attempted rape, in March 2020 following a High Court trial and Mr Hamilton’s inquiry was delayed again by the pandemic, before resuming in August 2020.

In a statement, Ms Sturgeon said: “Mr Hamilton has considered all of the allegations against me, and I am happy that his report’s findings clear me of any breach of the ministerial code.

“I sought at every stage in this issue to act with integrity and in the public interest. As I have previously made clear, I did not consider that I had broken the code, but these findings are official, definitive and independent adjudication of that.

“Prior to its publication, opposition politicians stressed the importance of respecting and accepting the outcome of Mr Hamilton’s independent inquiry, and I committed wholeheartedly to doing so. Now that he has reported, it is incumbent on them to do likewise.”

Nicola Sturgeon
First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, leaves her home in Glasgow (Andrew Milligan/PA)

In a BBC interview, she said she “looks forward” to the publication on Tuesday of the report from parliamentary committee into the Scottish Government’s handling of complaints about Mr Salmond.

Earlier leaks indicate the committee also found she did not mislead the Scottish Parliament.

Ms Sturgeon said: “But I cannot escape the conclusion that there are some members of that committee – because their pubic utterances show this – that decided before a single word of evidence had been taken that I was guilty of something and nothing was going to remove them from that view.”

She added that the Hamilton report has “concluded I did not mislead Parliament and I didn’t breach the ministerial code in any respect”.

A planned no confidence vote Ms Sturgeon on Tuesday is likely to fail after the Scottish Greens said they will not support it, saying the Scottish Conservatives have shown “they have no interest in establishing the truth”, in lodging it before the report was published.

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie added some of the committee members had “shown utter contempt for the women involved, and for the rules of the Scottish Parliament, by leaking confidential evidence and their own conclusions”.

He said: “If anyone’s resignation is still needed, it is these MSPs who should step down now, and who should not be candidates for re-election in May.”