06:41, January 08 264 0 theguardian.com

2019-01-08 06:41:17
Scottish government acted unlawfully over Alex Salmond claims, court rules

Alex Salmond has won his legal challenge against the Scottish government’s investigation into claims he sexually harassed two women, after the government admitted its processes were unlawful.

Lord Pentland, a judge sitting at specially convened hearing in the court of session in Edinburgh, struck down the government’s findings and ordered ministers to pay all Salmond’s costs.

In a significant blow to Nicola Sturgeon, Salmond’s successor as first minister, her government admitted the process had been tarnished from the start after new internal documents were disclosed to Salmond’s legal team.

The Scottish government confirmed the civil servant tasked with investigating the complaints, Judith McKinnon, had discussed both cases with the complainants several weeks before they were formally lodged.

That meant the entire investigation, launched in January 2018, was a breach of fair process and was illegal in common law.Ministers admitted to the court that this gave rise to questions of “apparent bias” by the officials involved.

The Scottish government’s concessions raise serious questions about the role and future of Leslie Evans, the permanent secretary and Sturgeon’s most senior civil servant.

Evans had said the government would robustly defend its decision to investigate, but the court heard she must have known civil service rules forbade an investigating officer from having any prior contact with a complainant.

She said an internal review would be carried out by the Scottish government, and added: “We shall learn and apply the lessons of this case to any future complaint addressed under our internal procedure.

“My priority remains the duty of care to my staff, including anyone in the organisation who brings forward any concerns about inappropriate conduct, regardless of the identity or seniority of the individual complained about. Finally I would reiterate that the single procedural flaw which led to this decision is deeply regrettable. In particular, I regret the distress it will cause to the two women who raised the complaints.”

Roddy Dunlop QC, acting for the Scottish government, told the court that its concessions had “no bearing whatsoever” on the veracity of the complaints against Salmond.

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