A judge’s decision to alter a court order relating to the trial of Alex Salmond was made to avoid a risk of any “misinterpretation” of its scope.
Judge Lady Dorrian last week amended the ruling which prevents the publication of information likely to identify any of the accusers in the Salmond trial.
She told a hearing at the High Court in Edinburgh on Thursday she would add the words “as such complainers in those proceedings” to the contempt order relating to the criminal trial.
The Spectator magazine applied to the court to vary the terms of the order.
It followed a decision by a Holyrood committee investigating the Scottish Government’s botched handling of sexual harassment complaints against Mr Salmond not to publish a submission from the former first minister.
In its decision the committee cited legal concerns over orders to protect the anonymity of complainers in the March 2020 trial against Mr Salmond, in which he was acquitted on all charges.
Lady Dorrian said there should be “no confusion about the matter” about not allowing those making accusations against Mr Salmond to be identified. However, she recognised the wording could cause confusion.
In her decision, published on Tuesday, she said: “In the present case, the prohibition in the order was designed to protect the identity of those who were complainers in the criminal proceedings in which the order was made, and to prevent the publication of information which might identify them as having been complainers in the case.
“I recognised that a reputable journal and responsible senior counsel have suggested otherwise, and that any slight risk of misinterpretation could readily be addressed by the addition of a few words to the order, which the Crown did not oppose.
“I did not consider that adding the words ‘in connection with these proceedings’ would achieve the stated aim: it seemed to me that these words ran the risk of actually creating confusion and of diminishing the protection of complainers.
“I considered that the addition of the words ‘as such complainers in those proceedings’ would serve to highlight the scope of the order whilst maintaining the necessary protection for complainers.
“I agreed therefore to vary the order to that extent.”
The original order had been worded as to prevent “the publication of the names and identity, and any information likely to disclose the identity, of the complainers in the case” against Mr Salmond.
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 Holyrood 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”.
Ronald Clancy QC, acting for the magazine, had argued the order was 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.”
Mr Clancy 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 that redaction will not avoid the risk of jigsaw identification.