Nicola Sturgeons appearance at Alex Salmond inquiry postponed

Nicola Sturgeons appearance at Alex Salmond inquiry postponed

Nicola Sturgeon’s appearance at the committee investigating her government’s handling of complaints against Alex Salmond has been postponed.

The first minister had been due to give evidence to the cross-party committee of MSPs next week.

But the committee agreed to postpone the session after members met in private on Friday.

The committee said it wanted to examine a High Court ruling from Thursday.

Some committee members have said they believe the ruling could pave the way for both Mr Salmond – who refused to appear before the inquiry earlier this week – and Ms Sturgeon to give evidence in the future.

A Scottish Parliament spokesperson said: “Given the impact of the recent court judgement is not yet known, the committee has agreed that it must have the time to reflect on the impact on its work once the full written judgment is published early next week.

“As a result, the committee has agreed that the first minster’s evidence should be postponed until the full impact of that judgment is considered.

“It is important for the committee to hear from Mr Salmond and the committee has always been clear that the first minister should be the last witness to appear before the inquiry.”

Mr Salmond has been locked in a dispute with the committee over what material can be published, and he refused to appear before the inquiry on Tuesday of this week.

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.

Mr Salmond’s legal team said they want to study the ruling, but hoped it could allow the former first minister to appear before the inquiry.

Committee member Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s interim leader, said the committee would meet on Tuesday to discuss Lady Dorrian’s judgement.

“I hope that we will then be in a position to publish the evidence provided by Mr Salmond,” she said.

Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser, who also sits on the committee, said: “From the outset, this committee have been clear that we could not do our job properly without being able to question Alex Salmond in person.

“I’m pleased members today have agreed a decision that will hopefully now allow that to happen.

“Once we have had time to digest the full details of the revised court order, the former first minister must now appear at the earliest opportunity. His evidence is absolutely vital to this inquiry.”

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.

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