Alex Salmond arriving at the Court of Session in Edinburgh this morning
How Scottish government failed to follow procedure in sex harassment probe into its own former first minster Alex Salmond
- Last January two women made allegations of sexual misconduct against former Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond
- Mr Salmond denies the claims, which relate to 2013, calling them ‘patently ridiculous’
- Police Scotland are investigating those claims as a possible criminal matter – their enquiries continue
- The Scottish government launched its own internal investigation
- Mr Salmond launched a legal challenge, claiming that investigation was unfair because he was given too little time to review the claims, and had not been allowed to see evidence against him
- Today Scotland’s highest court ruled in his favour, saying the process had been ‘procedurally unfair’ and ‘tainted by apparent bias’ because the investigator appointed had prior contact with the complainants
The former First Minister of Scotland has called on the country’s most senior civil servant to resign after the Scottish Government took ‘institutional responsibility’ for its shortcomings in a legal fight against him.
This morning Scotland’s highest court, the Court of Session in Edinburgh, ruled the Scottish government acted unlawfully in its investigation into complaints made against Alex Salmond.
He launched a judicial review into its handling of the investigation, into complaints made in 2018 about alleged sexual misconduct in 2013 – allegations he strongly denies.
This legal fight has been purely over the process of investigating the complaints, not the complaints themselves, which are the subject of a separate, ongoing police investigation.
In the court, Judge Lord Pentland said the government’s actions were unlawful because they were ‘procedurally unfair’ but also because they were ‘tainted with apparent bias’.
The HR official appointed by the government to investigate the case had contact with the complainers before being appointed.
Speaking after the ruling, Mr Salmond said that he had maintained all along the case against him was ‘unfair, unlawful and biased’ and that he was not guilty.
He added: ‘The first is established, the second is to come’.
He said he was delighted to have won the case but ‘sad’ at having to have brought his own government to court, and turned his fire on Leslie Evans, the Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government.
He said: ‘I notice in their submissions that the advocate for the Government said the Government accepted institutional responsibility – not personal.
‘Therefore I suggest the Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government now accepts that responsibility and considers her position.’
Mr Salmond added: ‘The process has already been admitted as unlawful, unfair and tainted by bias. You couldn’t get more tainted.
‘So when she has got some time for mature reflection, I hope that the Permanent Secretary considers her position, not events in the future.
‘I cannot think on a day of abject humiliation for the Scottish Government that seems to me like a correct and proper response.’
He said the case should never have been brought to court, adding: ‘All of this was unnecessary.
‘Throughout the process we offered mediation, legal arbitration, so that this matter could be properly settled without having to come to the highest court in the land. At every stage that was rebuffed by the Permanent Secretary.’
He thanked the 4,000 people who contributed more than £100,000 to a crowdfunding appeal to help fund his lawsuit, and said the money would go to good causes now the government has agreed to pay his legal costs.
He warned the case could cost the Scottish taxpayer as much as £500,000.
This afternoon Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was ‘deeply regrettable’ that the Scottish Government has had to settle the legal challenge brought by Mr Salmond.
The Scottish First Minister made a statement to MSPs at Holyrood after the legal challenge brought by her predecessor was settled out of court.
Ms Sturgeon said while there was no suggestion that the ‘investigating officer did in fact act in a partial way’, she said it was a ‘well established principle’ that such procedures must be seen to be impartial
She said: ‘It remains my view that the Government was right to begin an investigation when the complaints were made and not allow them to be swept under the carpet because of the identity of the person complained about.
‘And while in this one respect the operational application of the procedure was flawed, the Scottish Government considers the procedure itself to be robust and it remains in place.’
This morning Leslie Evans accepted that the Scottish Government’s investigation of two complaints made against the former first minister was ‘procedurally flawed’.
Speaking on the steps of the Court of Session in Edinburgh, the former First Minister said he was delighted to have won but sad the case had come this far
He told reporters: ‘I suggest the Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government now accepts that responsibility and considers her position’
Mr Salmond called for Leslie Evans, Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government, to ‘consider her position’ after the government accepted there were institutional failings in its case
Contact between the investigating officer and the two complainers around the time the allegations were made in January 2018 could have created an ‘impression of partiality,’ Ms Evans conceded.
She stated: ‘There is nothing to suggest that the investigating officer did not conduct their duties in an impartial way.
‘Unfortunately, the interactions with the complainants in advance of the complaints being made meant that the process was flawed, however impartially and fairly the investigating officer conducted the investigation.’
She said the government acted in good faith and said she stood by the decision to investigate the complaints, which were made in January 2018 and are believed to relate to alleged sexual misconduct in 2013.
Ms Evans said the Scottish Government would consider re-investigating the complaints, if the complainants wished, and once ongoing police inquiries have concluded. She added an internal review would be carried out by the Government.
The Court of Session in Edinburgh heard the person who investigated the complaints of sexual misconduct, which Mr Salmond strongly denies, had involvement with the complainers prior to being appointed investigating officer.
Former First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond arrives at the Court of Session in Edinburgh
At the Court of Session this morning the former First Minister’s legal challenge was heard, against the Scottish Government’s handling of a complaint of misconduct against him
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh said that it was ‘deeply regrettable’ the Scottish Government has had to settle the legal challenge
Police case rumbles on
Police investigating the complaints against Mr Salmond are believed to have contacted dozens of government and SNP staff.
Detectives working on the case, Operation Diem, contacted the Scottish Government staff following accusations by two women.
One claim is believed to relate to an alleged incident at Bute House while Mr Salmond was First Minister.
A Police Scotland spokeswoman stressed that today’s court hearing in Edinburgh was a civil proceeding, not a criminal one.
Of the police’s own investigation into alleged sexual misconduct, she said: ‘Our enquiries continue, we will not be commenting further.’
The Scottish government’s admission centred on an official appointed by the Scottish government to investigate the complaints against Mr Salmond.
The government’s lawyer, Roddy Dunlop QC, told the court that the investigating officer was a ‘dedicated HR professional’ who acted in good faith, but did have some contact with the complainers before being appointed to the case.
Mr Dunlop said the investigating officer’s prior contact with the complainers had led the government to accept that there had been a ‘failure’ in one aspect of the investigation, which could have given the impression that they were not acting impartially.
But he said the government did not accept a claim by Mr Salmond’s legal team that the investigating officer had effectively been ‘assisting the complainers’ and ‘giving them encouragement’.
A four-day hearing on the case had been due to begin at the Court of Session in Edinburgh next week, but that will now not go ahead.
The allegations against Mr Salmond date back to 2013, when he was still First Minister. He has described the claims as ‘patently ridiculous’.
At an earlier procedural hearing in November, Lord Pentland said lawyers for the government would argue those acting for Mr Salmond do not ‘have a relevant case as a matter of law’ but the latter believe they were not given adequate information about the allegations.
Mr Salmond, who has been both an MP and an MSP, had been a member of the party for 45 years when he resigned last August, saying he was giving up his membership to avoid any potential divisions within the party.
He was party leader for 20 years over that period, with two decade-long spells in the job. He also became Scotland’s longest serving first minister.
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