Alex Salmond 'could still appear' at inquiry committee

Published
Related Topics
image copyrightReuters
image captionMr Salmond declined to appear before the committee earlier this week

Alex Salmond's lawyers have said he could still appear before the inquiry into how the Scottish government handled complaints against him.

It comes after a High Court judge amended a court order which the committee says prevents it publishing evidence that Mr Salmond wants it to.

Mr Salmond's legal team said they want to study the ruling but hoped it could allow "an early oral evidence session".

The move could affect the timing of Nicola Sturgeon's committee appearance.

The first minister is scheduled to appear at the Scottish Parliament committee that is investigating the government's handling of harassment complaints on Tuesday.

But committee member Murdo Fraser MSP told Good Morning Scotland this might change if it was agreed Mr Salmond is to take part in person.

He said: "If Mr Salmond was to come in, then the understanding always was that it would be reasonable that he would give evidence before the first minister and she would have the final word to respond to anything he said."

The inquiry committee will discuss the court ruling and scheduling at a meeting on Friday.

In a letter to the committee, which has been seen by the BBC, Mr Salmond's lawyers also say that they hope it will allow the committee to publish evidence which it has previously refused to.

But he has been locked in a dispute with the committee over what material can be published, and the evidence session was called off.

A spokeswoman for the committee said earlier this week that Mr Salmond had set conditions they "simply could never meet" because of court orders, and that the inquiry would move on without him appearing before them.

But the Spectator magazine went to the High Court on Thursday morning asking for the court order to be amended in order to give "comfort and clarity" to the inquiry about what can and cannot be published.

The publication's lawyers proposed one amendment, but judge Lady Dorrian then suggested another - which was accepted by all sides, including the Crown.

The judge's written reasons for the change will be published by the beginning of next week, with the advocate representing the Spectator saying this "may be more important than the change" itself.

image copyrightReuters
image captionNicola Sturgeon has said she is "relishing" the opportunity to give her side of the story to the committee

Mr Salmond's successor as first minister and SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, is due to give evidence to the committee next Tuesday.

The pair have been embroiled in an increasingly bitter war of words over the saga, with Mr Salmond accusing Ms Sturgeon of breaching the ministerial code - an accusation she has denied.

Ms Sturgeon appeared to suggest in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday that the inquiry committee should use its powers to compel Mr Salmond to appear before it.

The Podlitical team examine the latest developments in the inquiry, and look ahead to what questions Nicola Sturgeon is likely to face if she appears before the committee next week.

You can listen to the latest episode here, or wherever you get your podcasts.

The Scottish Conservatives have said they want this to happen, and pushed for an emergency meeting of the committee to "order the former first minister to attend".

On Thursday evening, the Scottish Parliament announced the committee would meet on Friday.

A spokeswoman said: "The committee has agreed to meet tomorrow to discuss the potential impact on the inquiry once Lady Dorrian's judgment has been properly considered by the Parliament's legal advisers and those of the former first minister.

"The committee notes Mr Salmond's wish that he attend to give evidence".

Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser, who sits on the committee, said earlier he was "satisfied that we now have grounds to compel Salmond to attend".

"I would expect SNP members to agree that this must happen, as suggested yesterday by Nicola Sturgeon herself," he added.

What is the committee looking at?

The committee was set up to investigate the Scottish government's botched handling of two internal harassment complaints against Mr Salmond, dating back to when he was first minister.

But after he raised a legal challenge in the Court of Session the government conceded its investigation had been "unlawful" due to a procedural error, and was ordered to pay him more than £500,000 in expenses.

Mr Salmond was subsequently cleared of all 13 charges of sexual assault against him after a trial at the High Court in March of last year.

Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon were intended to be the final witnesses to appear before the committee, which is due to publish its report next month.

But Mr Salmond had said he would only appear if the committee published in full a submission he made alleging that Ms Sturgeon broke the ministerial code.

His lawyers also asked for a range of other assurances, including "very specific direction" on every matter which he would have been barred from speaking about due to court orders.

At a meeting on Tuesday, committee MSPs voted by five to four not to publish the submission, with the four SNP members being joined by independent Andy Wightman to defeat the Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem representatives.

A separate inquiry, headed by Ireland's former director of public prosecutions James Hamilton, is specifically examining whether Ms Sturgeon breached the ministerial code - which sets out how ministers should behave - by interfering with the civil service investigation into the allegations, or by lying to parliament.