Lord Advocate quizzed by MSPs again at Salmond inquiry

James Wolffe QC has been recalled to give more evidence to the committee.

Lord Advocate quizzed by MSPs again at Salmond inquiry PA Ready
Holyrood: James Wolffe QC has been recalled to give more evidence to the committee.

Scotland’s Lord Advocate is reappearing before Holyrood inquiry to face questions about the Crown Office’s controversial intervention in redacting Alex Salmond’s evidence and the apparent breach of a court order about releasing evidence.

James Wolffe QC was recalled to give more evidence to the committee into the Scottish Government’s unlawful investigation of harassment complaints about the former first minister.

Salmond last week said that Wolffe, who is both the head of the Crown Office, the body for prosecuting crime in Scotland, and a member of the Scottish Government, should resign over the saga, which ended up costing Scottish taxpayers more than £600,000.

The former leader of the SNP alleges there was a “deliberate, prolonged, malicious and concerted effort” to remove him from public life and argued that the government delayed conceding the civil case to avoid a “cataclysmic” defeat in open court.

He claimed that evidence of prior contact between investigating officer Judith Mackinnon and two of the women who made complainants was not deemed “fatal” to the Scottish Government’s case when it allegedly first came to light in October 2018.

The government ultimately conceded the case to Salmond in January 2019.

The Scottish Parliament has twice voted to demand the government to publish the legal advice it received, but the government previously refused before a motion of no confidence in deputy first minister John Swinney was tabled by the Scottish Tories, prompting an announcement that “key legal advice” would be made public on Tuesday.

Swinney has said the advice will counter “false” allegations the Scottish Government knew it would lose the case brought by Mr Salmond months before they conceded.

During his last appearance in November, Wolffe would not reveal details, citing legal privilege.

It has since emerged that a tranche of documents released by the Scottish Government to the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints was never given to Salmond ahead of the court case – something a committee member said could “merit a police investigation”.

Scottish Labour’s Jackie Baillie said she would raise the allegation with the Lord Advocate that the Scottish Government “ignored” a police warrant ordering it to hand over documents ahead of Salmond’s criminal trial.

She explained: “There was a commission on diligence where they signed a legal certificate saying they provided all the information they had.

“The search warrant was in relation to documents for the criminal trial.

“And then, of course, lo and behold, the committee got an additional 40 documents as part of the complaints handling batch of information that nobody had ever seen before.

“So, clearly, the internal processes of the Scottish Government have failed to provide information in relation to a search warrant, which is really serious.

“In normal circumstances that would merit a police investigation.”

She also said there was a “lack of consistency in approach” towards the redactions of Salmond’s evidence parliament was instructed to make – a total of five sections, compared to the one section the Spectator magazine was asked to redact.

“Why that is their approach, why the inconsistency, is something, of course, we will want to explore with the Lord Advocate,” Baillie said.

During his appearance before the committee on Friday, Salmond said his ability to give evidence has been “severely hampered” by the Crown Office with two orders restricting what he could say amid the threat of prosecution.

He said: “The application of these provisions and threat of prosecution made to me if I offered that evidence is, in my estimation, both extraordinary and unwarranted.”

Addressing the redactions of his evidence, Salmond said: “What is it in the leadership of the Crown Office that is deficient that it is drawing itself in to what is properly the political arena?”

Salmond claimed there has been a deliberate suppression of information inconvenient” to the Scottish Government during investigations arising from complaints made against him.

He told the committee: “You can see that the pattern of non-disclosure goes right through the judicial review, right through the criminal case and right into this committee.

“It’s not the odd document that’s been missed out, it is a sequence of deliberate suppression of information inconvenient to the government.”

Salmond also criticised the lack of a police investigation into the leak revealing details of the investigation into him to the Daily Record.

He said: “Where has been the police investigation ordered by the Crown Office into what has been for many people concerned, not least the complainers, a hugely distressing leak to the Daily Record in August 2018?

“As far as I know there has been nothing said or done by the Crown Office in terms of trying to determine where that leak came from.”