Witnesses refuse to reveal if Swinney has asked about Salmond legal advice

Harassment allegation committee hearing
Harassment allegation committee hearing (PA Wire)
18:37pm, Tue 17 Nov 2020
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Scotland’s top civil servant and the Lord Advocate have both refused to say whether the Scottish Government has asked to release legal advice about the botched Alex Salmond investigation.

The Scottish Parliament voted for the government to publish the legal advice it received but it has so far failed to do so.

The Cabinet would need to seek approval from one of the government’s top law officers, but giving evidence to the Holyrood committee investigating the Scottish Government’s handling of the complaints against the former first minister, Lord Advocate James Wolffe repeatedly refused to say whether he had been contacted about releasing the advice.

He was asked five times by Scottish Labour MSP Jackie Baillie whether Deputy First Minister John Swinney had asked about handing over the information, but he refused to comment.

I don't think it would be right for me to discuss what is an ongoing process the government is engaged in

Leslie Evans, the Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government, appeared before the committee on Tuesday and also declined to answer.

She attempted to cite legal privilege for not revealing whether Scotland’s law officers had been asked about releasing the details.

She also suggested that the Cabinet have not discussed Parliament’s demand for the Government to waive its legal privilege.

The Government was defeated in a vote on November 4 and was instructed to “publish all the legal advice it received” about the judicial review of the investigation into the former first minister.

Following the defeat, Mr Swinney said the Cabinet would “consider the implications of the motion” and failed to meet the deadline set by the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints to hand over the information.

Harassment allegation committee hearing (PA Wire)

In a letter to the committee, Mr Swinney said ministers “must obtain the prior consent of law officers and that consent will be given only if there are compelling reasons”.

But asked whether any contact had been made in the 13 days since the vote, the Lord Advocate said he was “aware” of Parliament’s decision but would not reveal if any minister had contacted him about it.

Mr Wolffe said: “I don’t think it would be right for me to discuss what is an ongoing process the Government is engaged in.”

Scottish Labour’s Jackie Baillie asked the Lord Advocate five times whether ministers had made contact over the release of legal advice.

He said: “The law officers are required to be consulted, they are being consulted in their capacity as the government’s principal legal advisors in the context of that process so I don’t want to and I don’t think it would be right to get into the way in which that process is being taken forward at the moment.

“The Deputy First Minister has set out what he is doing.”

Asked whether the Cabinet had discussed releasing the legal advice since November 4, Ms Evans said: “I would need to consult the Cabinet minutes, but not that I can recall in my time in Cabinet.”

Ms Evans pointed out that she missed Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting because she was appearing before the committee, but said it was not on the agenda to be discussed.

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