Alex Salmond will accuse the Scottish Government of covering up a plan to stall his legal action when he appears before a Holyrood committee of inquiry.
The former first minister will claim the government had a series of meeting to discuss how to have his judicial review suspended when he speaks to MSPs on Wednesday as they continue to look into how harassment complaints against him were investigated.
Sources suggest Salmond will detail his claim of a cover-up at senior levels in the government and highlight 17 meetings which took place to discuss how the government might block his legal attempt to prove its inquiry was unlawful.
It is suggested government documents detailing proposals to “sist” or suspend the legal case by arguing it might influence a criminal investigation, by then under way, exist but only one email making mention of the plan was passed to the inquiry.
The government continued to defend its inquiry in defiance of legal advice before a judge ruled it unlawful and “tainted by bias”, costing taxpayers an estimated £700,000 in legal costs. Salmond’s supporters believe the government continued to fight the case, despite being told it would lose, because they hoped his arrest and prosecution would bury criticism of their failures.
Lib Dem MSP and committee member Alex Cole-Hamilton: said: “It is clear the judicial review went on longer than it should have and there were many paths not taken in how to settle the legality of the process.
“Salmond’s appearance will allow us to complete the picture around his version of events so that we can comprehensively test the first minister the following week on her account.”
Nicola Sturgeon promised that the Scottish Government would “co-operate fully” with the inquiry but its work has been dogged by delays and frustration as the government refused to submit documents, including the legal advice concerning the judicial review, despite MSPs voting twice for it to be handed over.
A written submission by Salmond is expected to be published tomorrow, followed by his appearance before the committee on Wednesday. His appearance had been thrown into doubt after a majority of the committee had voted against publishing his submission on the ministerial code, citing legal concerns over orders to protect the anonymity of complainers.
However, the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body ruled on Thursday the evidence could be published. An extract from Salmond’s submission claims key evidence of a plan by the government in the autumn of 2018 has been hidden. He says this was aimed at avoiding failure in the Court of Session judicial review by postponing the action while a criminal investigation was ongoing. A source close to Salmond said: ‘The committee are being played for suckers. They asked specifically for this information which explains why the government ignored the legal advice to settle Alex’s judicial review.
“The government intended to talk it out of court and these hidden documents about sisting get to the roots of the scandal. That’s why they’re now under wraps.”
In January 2019, the Court of Session ruled that prior communication between investigating officer Judith MacKinnon and two women who came forward with complaints meant the inquiry was unlawful.
Lord Pentland said the government’s actions had been “procedurally unfair” and “tainted with apparent bias”, and Salmond was awarded £512,250 in costs. He was cleared of 13 charges, including sexual assault, indecent assault and attempted rape, following a trial last year.
Salmond’s submission said MSPs had heard evidence there were 17 meetings of the committee formed to monitor and plan the Scottish Government defence of the judicial review between August 2018 and January 2019.
Former legal director Paul Cackette said there were daily meetings, while investigating officer Judith MacKinnon said they occurred three times a week during this period. Salmond’s submission says: “Despite this information being offered at the evidence session of December 1, no information has been received by the committee of any of these meetings.
“I believe there have to be such emails which show the Lord Advocate’s advice on the possibilities of sisting the judicial review behind the criminal case.
“The advantage of doing so in a context where the judicial review was likely to be lost was clear. Any adverse comment or publicity about the illegality of the Scottish Government actions would be swept away in the publicity of my arrest and subsequent criminal proceedings.”
The only document seen by the committee is an email from Scottish Government Director of People Nicola Richards in August 2018. It said: “One important question that will be addressed …is whether it is thought that the hearing of arguments in the judicial review could possibly prejudice the criminal investigation and any subsequent criminal trial and whether therefore there is any need/desire to seek to have the judicial review sisted (put on hold) pending the outcome of police investigations. It is not unusual in circumstances where there are criminal and civil proceedings running at the same time, for the civil proceedings to be sisted.”
The Scottish Government said: “The Lord Advocate covered the issue of sisting the judicial review in his evidence to the committee on November 17, 2020.”
Sturgeon is due to give evidence next week and will, according to her spokesman, “relish” the opportunity to take on “absurd, contradictory and baseless” theories of a political conspiracy against Salmond.
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