Scotland’s top law officer has refused to say whether the Government has requested the disclosure of legal advice in the Alex Salmond case.
Lord Advocate James Wolffe said he would not get into the “ins and outs of internal discussions” with the Government after Parliament voted for the material to be released.
The Holyrood committee continued its investigation today into the SNP Government’s botched probe into sexual misconduct complaints against Salmond.
The ex-first minister challenged the Government in court and it was agreed the probe had been unlawful and tainted by apparent bias.
Not only did the flawed handling of the complaints cost the taxpayer over £500,000, but it ended the friendship between Nicola Sturgeon and Salmond, whose allies believe he was targeted by the Government he used to lead.
A long-running dispute has been between the Holyrood committee and the Government on the latter’s legal advice during the judicial review.
MSPs want to know when the Government knew their defence was doomed, but the administration has refused to hand over the actual advice on the grounds of legal privilege.
Parliament recently voted for the material to be released, but the advice has not been handed over.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney has said the Government is considering the implications of the vote and will come back to Parliament.
In a letter to the committee, Swinney quoted the Ministerial Code in relation to how legal advice can be released:
“If, in exceptional circumstances, Ministers feel that the balance of public interest lies in disclosing either the source or the contents of legal advice on a particular matter, the Law Officers must be consulted and their prior consent obtained. Such consent will only be granted where there are compelling reasons for disclosure in the particular circumstances.”
At today’s session of the Inquiry, Wolffe, who is head of the prosecution system and principal legal adviser to the Government, was asked by Labour MSP Jackie Baillie whether he had been contacted by Swinney in relation to releasing the advice.
He said: “I don’t think it would be right for me to discuss what is an ongoing process that Government is engaged in, and which ultimately will result in a collective decision by Ministers.”
Asked again by Baillie whether anybody had contacted him, he said: “I am clearly aware of the process.”
Asked the same question again, he replied: “I don’t think it would be consistent with the collective nature of the decision making process for me, at this stage, when it is an ongoing process, to get into the ins and outs of internal discussions.”
Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said:
“Any lingering hope of this SNP government doing the right thing was dashed today.
“The Lord Advocate should have come to Parliament and given clear answers to straight questions. Instead, he decided to stonewall.
“In police interviews, suspects frequently say ‘no comment’. The Lord Advocate had his own version which was to cite law officer convention.
He added: “Following the SNP’s refusal to respect the will of Parliament, today’s lack of good faith reconfirms the contempt they have for this committee and by extension the public.
“We still do not know whether the SNP government has asked the Lord Advocate for this information to be released.
“The permanent secretary was not much better and frequently sought to find ways to avoid giving straight answers.”
Baillie added: “We still do not know if Ministers have bothered to ask the Lord Advocate whether they can release the legal advice for the judicial review. The Ministerial Code states plainly that Ministers may publicly acknowledge if they have received legal advice. Why, then, do we still not know if the Lord Advocate has been engaged to do so?
“This is nothing less than holding parliament in contempt. The advice must be released without further delay or it will increasingly look like they really do have something to hide.”
-- to www.dailyrecord.co.uk