The Scottish Government have refused to release legal advice due to ‘legal privilege’.
Friday, 25th September 2020, 12:30 pm
Scottish Labour demanded an end to “secrecy” around the legal advice provided to the Scottish Government in regards to the judicial review brought by the former First Minister, Alex Salmond.
Jackie Baillie, who sits on the harassment complaints committee, said the “promise of transparency” given to the inquiry by the Scottish Government “was not worth the paper it was written on”.
The harassment complaints inquiry is examining how the procedure for complaints was developed and then implemented, and how that lead to the legal action from Mr Salmond which cost the taxpayer more than £500,000 in costs after it was conceded by the Scottish Government.
The main bone of contention has been around the refusal from the Scottish Government to release legal advice provided to it by lawyers around the judicial review itself due to legal privilege.
Officials have also been accused of obfuscation and evasion when disclosing key documents and correspondence to the inquiry.
In a parliamentary question Ms Baillie asked the Scottish Government why it had disclosed legal advice to judicial inquiries such as the Infected Blood Inquiry and the Tram Inquiry, but not to the committee’s own inquiry.
In response, deputy first minister John Swinney said there was no “hierarchy of status” of inquiries, and said decisions on disclosure were made on a case by case basis and only in “exceptional circumstances” and maintaining professional legal privilege was key to good government.
Ms Baillie, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader said: “From the outset, this committee and its members have been faced with a Scottish Government that simply will not give the committee all relevant information.
“The promise of transparency was not worth the paper it was written on.
“The secrecy must end. It is time for the Scottish Government to make public all legal advice relating to the committee in the interest of transparency and clarity.
“The continual evasion is unacceptable and must end, otherwise we will be left wondering what the Scottish Government is trying to hide.”
Both Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond are expected to give evidence to the inquiry over the issue which is believed to have ended their friendship.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government is cooperating fully with the Committee to provide relevant information and will continue to do so.
“To date, 180 separate documents comprising more than 1,000 pages of relevant material have already been sent to the Committee, all manually checked to avoid breaching data protection, confidentiality and legal restrictions;
“As we set out this week, we are committed to continuing to provide document requested by the Committee so far as is possible, and we intend to initiate legal proceedings seeking to allow the release of further documents.”