January 08, 2019
Ex-first minister wins legal challenge over handling of sexual harassment allegations
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 a specially convened hearing in the court of session in Edinburgh, struck down the government’s findings and ordered ministers to pay 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 MacKinnon, 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.
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.
Speaking outside the court after the ruling, Salmond called on Evans to resign. He thanked his family and friends “for standing with me over the last few months”. He said he would be writing to the more than 4,000 people who contributed to a crowdfunding campaign to support his legal bid, with any surplus money going to charity.
Salmond added: “The last time I was in that court, it was to be sworn in as first minister of Scotland. I never thought at any point I would be taking the Scottish government to court. While I’m glad about the victory, I’m sad that it was necessary to take this action.”
In a statement issued before Salmond’s comments, Evans defended the Scottish government’s decision to investigate and said civil servants could still reopen the inquiry, once the police investigation was complete.
Evans said her officials had always acted in good faith, and that Salmond had only won his judicial review on one of his three grounds. The Scottish government’s complaints processes remained robust and lawful, she said.
Salmond’s case was only upheld, she said, because of one failure in appointing an investigating officer who had already spoken to the complainants.
“I want to apologise to all involved for the failure in the proper application of this one particular part of the procedure,” Evans said.
“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.”
Evans apologised to the two women who had made complaints: “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.”
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