'NO records of key meetings between Nicola Sturgeon and lawyers'

Scottish ministers claim there are NO records of crucial meetings between Nicola Sturgeon and lawyers about Alex Salmond’s court challenge

  • Nicola Sturgeon facing accusations over handling of Alex Salmond complaints
  • Her deputy John Swinney has confirmed there are no records of legal meetings
  • Committee is drawing up report on the handling of the case with Mr Salmond 

There are no records of crucial meetings between Nicola Sturgeon and lawyers about the court challenge brought by Alex Salmond, Scottish ministers have claimed.

Ms Sturgeon’s deputy John Swinney has confirmed to a Holyrood committee that minutes cannot be found of discussions on two key dates. 

The admission risks fuelling the furious row threatening to tear the SNP and Scottish government apart – with Ms Sturgeon denying that she misled Parliament over the handling of complaints against Mr Salmond.  

According to evidence provided to the committee of inquiry, Ms Sturgeon and Leslie Evans, Scotland’s most senior civil servant, held meetings with external legal advisers on November 2 and November 13 2018 about a judicial review brought by Mr Salmond. 

Nicola Sturgeon’s deputy John Swinney has confirmed to a Holyrood committee that minutes cannot be found of discussions on two key dates

Mr Salmond (pictured) made a series of allegations about the handling of complaints against him during a dramatic committee hearing last month

Ms Sturgeon is facing claims that she pushed on with the case despite being advised that the Scottish government was going to lose. 

Mr Salmond was awarded more than £500,000 after the government conceded the following January, and was later cleared in a trial over harassment complaints. 

MSPs have demanded the release of official records of the meetings, but Mr Swinney insisted the Government has ‘not identified any record of minutes having been prepared or previously held’.

He added: ‘Officials have identified a small number of contemporaneous email exchanges referencing these meetings.

‘This includes exchanges following the meeting on 2 November and emails ahead of the meeting on 13 November 2018, attended by the First Minister and Permanent Secretary.

‘These exchanges make clear that the focus of the meetings was on discussing and agreeing with external counsel adjustments to the pleadings for the judicial review. ‘

Mr Swinney said the Government would ‘urgently’ make checks on court orders and data compliance and then try to publish the email exchanges ‘as soon as possible this week’.

The committee is meeting today to discuss the legal advice, and whether it has sufficient information for its report.

A motion of no confidence in the Deputy First Minister is expected to be debated in the parliament this week.

When Mr Swinney first confirmed on Friday that no minutes could be found for the November meetings, Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron said: ‘I’ve acted as counsel for the Scottish Government. At consultations, everyone takes notes.

‘It is inconceivable these minutes don’t exist.’

The Government’s lawyers had already warned ministers of difficulties with the case prior to the meetings, with papers showing on September 26 2018 senior and junior counsel advised of a ‘real risk that the court may be persuaded’ by a legal challenge ‘attacking various aspects of the investigation process’.

A motion of no confidence in Deputy First Minister Mr Swinney is expected to be debated in the Holyrood parliament this week

By December 17, however, Roddy Dunlop QC and Solicitor Advocate Christine O’Neill said they were ‘firmly of the view that at least one of the challenges mounted by the petitioner (Mr Salmond) will be successful’.

They added that ‘we simply wish all concerned – and we include the First Minister in this – to be absolutely certain that they wish us to plough on regardless’ with the defence of the case.

The Scottish Government conceded the case in January 2019, with the Court of Session ruling it had acted ‘unlawfully’ in its handling of the complaints.

Holyrood’s Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints had also asked Mr Swinney about any external legal advice received after the Lord Advocate wrote on December 31 2018 about conceding the case.

Mr Swinney said that although there had been ‘extensive engagement between counsel and Scottish Government lawyers’ in early January 2019, there were no formal written notes.

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