This morning, Deputy First Minister of Scotland John Swinney wrote to the Salmond Inquiry committee of MSPs, formally committing to publishing the legal advice this afternoon. This is following Labour, the Lib Dems, Reform UK, and the Greens all backing the Scottish Tory no confidence motion against Swinney. Curiously his letter claims he has now determined that “the balance of public interest” now lies in publishing the documents he was withholding. Guido suspects his decision is rather more to do with saving his own skin…
Crucially Swinney admits in his letter that the advice did warn of proceeding with the case – at a cost of £500,000 – months before conceding the case:
“reservations were raised about the judicial review following the identification of the issue of prior contact with the complainers in late October”
Swinney went on to say that “Subject to completing the necessary legal notifications, in line with our statutory obligations, we aim to release the material to the Committee on Tuesday afternoon.” Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross has said his widely backed no confidence motion will stay on the table until all the advice is published. Guido awaits to see how much is [redacted]…
Read the letter in full below:
I am concerned that this debate and the accusations, if not responded to, could impact negatively on public confidence in the Parliament, Government and even our justice institutions. I have determined therefore, consistent with the terms of section 2.40 of the Scottish Ministerial Code, that, in these exceptional circumstances, the balance of public interest now lies in releasing to the Committee and for publication the contents of legal advice received byte Government during the judicial review, in particular the contents of advice from external Counsel. The Law Officers have provided their consent that there are compelling reasons for disclosure in these specific circumstances.
The documents confirm that, whilst reservations were raised about the judicial review following the identification of the issue of prior contact with the complainers in late October, there were good public policy arguments and reasonable grounds for the Government to continue to defend the judicial review and to seek a determination from the Court on the matters raised, until the events of late December 2018.
Subject to completing the necessary legal notifications, in line with our statutory obligations, we aim to release the material to the Committee on Tuesday afternoon.
With the release of Counsel’s advice, the Scottish Government will have responded to all of the Committee’s requests for specific documents within our legal and other obligations.
During his evidence session with the Committee on Friday. Mr Salmond also raised an allegation that there was a desire within Government to seek to sift the judicial review once the issue of poor contact with the complainers was identified. I have asked officials to review the relevant documentation, but they have not identified any documents which support this allegation. As set out in earlier evidence provided by the Scottish Government, the issue of whether the judicial review should be sifted in light of the criminal investigation was considered at the stall of the judicial review process in September. Once the Scottish Government was content that necessary arrangements were in place to protect the identities of the complainers to minimise impact of the judicial review proceedings on the police investigation, there was no need to sist the case. The Scottish Government agreed to the repotting restrictions proposed by the petitioner.
I hope that access to the legal advice, including the advice from external Counsel, will assist the Committee in fuelling its remit and address some of the allegations that have been raised, without evidence, in the past few days.