WHAT DID THE FIRST MINISTER KNOW AND WHEN DID SHE KNOW IT?

A redacted version of the Open Record which sets out the pleadings of the parties as adjusted to the time when Leslie Evans and the Scottish Government finally conceded defeat was published by the Salmond inquiry on Friday.

It contains page after page of shocking detail which should put to rest once and for all the lie that the case was conceded on some technicality. The unlawfulness of both the procedure itself and the way in which it was applied by Investigating Officer Judith Mackinnon and ultimate decision-maker Leslie Evans is laid bare again and again.

For anyone looking for a convenient summary, I suggest points a) to o) of the petitioner’s Statement of Facts XXII, beginning on page 82.

Mackinnon is due to answer for her key role in this debacle at the inquiry on Tuesday and surely Hynd, Richards and, above all, Evans must be recalled by the inquiry to answer – properly this time – for their key roles in it too.

Nicola Sturgeon again

However, my focus in the Salmond inquiry posts on this blog has been consistently on the First Minister and on her claims that none of this was anything to do with her. As the facts begin to creep painfully out, these claims that she removed herself from a process in which she should have been front and centre look ever more bizarre.

Specifically, the First Minister’s claim that she knew nothing about the complaints of Ms A and Ms B against Alex Salmond until well after he was informed of them himself on 7 March 2018 looks ever more like a brazen lie.

Consider this passage in the adjusted Answers lodged on behalf of Evans and the Scottish Government in the judicial review:

“Ms Russell, with the consent of Complainer A, shared the fact of the approach by Complainer A and the nature of the information provided by her with the first respondent’s Director of People, Nicola Richards, and Deputy Director of People Advice, Judith Mackinnon….

“Ms Allison, with the consent of Complainer B, shared the fact of the latter’s approach and the nature of the information provided by Complainer B with Ms Richards. Ms Richards advised Ms Russell and Ms Allison to ask complainers A and B respectively whether they wished to speak to the HR team. They did so [i.e. asked them to speak to the HR team] on 29 November 2017.

“On the same day Ms Richards met with the first respondent and, separately, the first respondent met with the interested party to discuss development of the proposed procedure.”

As seasoned Salmond inquiry watchers will know, the “Ms Russell” referred to here is Gillian Russell, the Scottish Government Director of Safer Communities, who had been appointed by Evans as a “confidential sounding board” for complaints on 10 November 2017.

“Ms Allison” is Barbara Allison, who is due to give evidence again to the inquiry on Tuesday. She is the Scottish Government Director of Communications, Ministerial Support and Facilities and was contacted by Ms B on 8 November 2017, when she discussed with her events involving Alex Salmond.

Now for the new bit.

The “first respondent” referred to here is Leslie Evans. The “interested party” is Nicola Sturgeon.

Leslie Evans again

The meeting on 29 November 2017 between Leslie Evans and Nicola Sturgeon “to discuss development of the proposed procedure” appears nowhere in the Scottish Government’s Written Statement to the inquiry nor in its accompanying Timeline.

This is a somewhat startling omission from documents which were supposed to have been prepared for the specific purpose of setting out for the inquiry the role of the First Minister and her officials in the development of the procedure.

The Timeline jumps from 24 November to 12 December 2017 with no events apparently thought worthy of mention in between, and the Written Statement does the same:

“A version of the draft procedure was sent to the First Minister on 24 November 2017. The First Minister and Permanent Secretary discussed a hard copy of the procedure at a meeting on 12 December 2017. The Permanent Secretary wrote to the First Minister on 20 December 2017 formally seeking her agreement to adopt the procedure. The First Minister approved the procedure on the same day.”

So what else happened on 29 November 2017, and why might it be in the interests of the Scottish Government to add this meeting to the long list of things they have conveniently overlooked or “forgotten”?

As readers of earlier posts in this blog may remember, there was a lot going on that day.

The events of 29 November 2017

Firstly, as the Answers acknowledge, Russell contacted Ms A as instructed on that day, and Allison likewise contacted Ms B.

In the cosy, intimate manner which had already developed between complainers and the supposedly impartial senior officials who would be processing their complaints, Russell emailed Ms A: “As agreed I sent your narrative on in confidence to Nicky and Judith. I have now been asked by Nicky and Judith if you would be prepared to speak to them…”

In the same informal manner, Ms A replied: “I’d be happy to speak to Nicky and Judith and will text Nicky as suggested….”

The “narrative” referred to is the same document which, with just a few tweaks, became Ms A’s formal complaint on 16 January 2018. It is the document for which, on the very same date, Judith Mackinnon was appointed as Investigating Officer, believing herself apparently to have had “no prior involvement” in the complaint, as required by the procedure.

Allison’s similar contact with Ms B, as again acknowledged in the Answers, was then noted in a text from Richards to Mackinnon: “[Redacted] the woman who spoke to Barbara – has been in touch to speak…. She hasn’t made a statement but is still in close touch with the one who did. [Redacted] ”

Quite what this meant, and what has been redacted from it, is perhaps one of the many things the inquiry could take up with Mackinnon on Tuesday.

Nicola Richards then had a one-to-one meeting with Leslie Evans, which can only have been for the purpose of discussing with Evans the “narrative” of Ms A – that is to say, her complaint about Salmond – and whatever had been learned from Ms B about her complaint.

That then is the context in which, as we now learn for the first time, Leslie Evans met with Nicola Sturgeon that very same day “separately… to discuss development of the proposed procedure.”

What the First Minister knew, and when

In that context, is there anyone in the country still gullible enough to believe that what was discussed at this newly-disclosed meeting was some abstract development of a procedure which was being developed — at breakneck speed — to be targeted at no-one in particular?

Is there anyone out there who still thinks the Salmond complaints were not discussed at all?

Just in case there is, let me remind readers of one further piece of context.

The procedure for complaints against former Ministers was still in draft at this point, so even if there had been an absolute prohibition – for some unfathomable reason – on the First Minister being told of them, it would have had no application.

Indeed, if the complaints had been about a current Minister – the closest analogy for which actual binding rules were in place on that date – the First Minister would have had a positive right under the Ministerial Code to be told of them and a positive duty as “ultimate judge” of them to put in train immediately a course of action to deal with them.

The notion that these “concerns” about her closest friend and mentor, not to mention her direct predecessor as First Minister, should or could have been withheld from the head of the Scottish Government by an unelected civil servant at this meeting is not just fanciful, it is laughable.

But matters go further still.

As readers of previous posts in this blog may again remember, the latest version of the new procedure which was being furiously drafted at this point provided in terms for the First Minister to be told of complaints against former Ministers as soon as they were made, to remain the “ultimate judge” of them, and indeed to intervene as necessary to secure the co-operation of former Ministers in the investigation of them.

So even if the procedure as drafted to that point had any binding force at all at the time of this meeting – which it did not – it would still have been entirely right and proper for Evans to give Sturgeon a full briefing on the Salmond complaints at that meeting.

So I ask again: Is there anyone out there who still believes that Nicola Sturgeon was not told of these complaints, at the very latest, by the time of this meeting?

If so, I’d genuinely love to know why.

STURGEON: “JE RECUSE”

One aspect of the First Minister’s abdication of her responsibilities which seems to have passed unnoticed in the Salmond inquiry is her decision to “recuse” herself from providing the Scottish Government’s evidence to it.

It’s difficult to ascertain exactly when this decision was made or when it was first communicated, so I have submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Scottish Government seeking the full details, and I’ll provide them here when I get them.

What we do know is that, having corresponded with the Convenor at various times up to that point on the subject of the evidence and documentation to be provided to the inquiry, and having never so much as hinted that she was precluded in any way from doing so, the First Minister stood up in Parliament on 20 August 2020 and announced:

“Given that part of the Committee remit is to look at my conduct, I have recused myself from any decision making in terms of the Government’s interaction with the Committee, so I am not going to instruct the Government, because it would not be appropriate for me to do so. The Government will, I am sure, continue to co-operate fully and within the legal obligations that it operates under, and to make available the maximum amount of information that it can to the Committee.”

Swinney to the rescue

From around this time, responsibility for writing to the inquiry to explain (repeatedly) why, much as it would like to, the Scottish Government cannot actually provide the evidence the inquiry is seeking for this, that and the other reason has fallen on the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, who continues to fulfil the role with his usual diligence.

Readers with reasonably long powers of recall might remember that Swinney also played a similar role at the very start of this saga.

When the Scottish Cabinet met on 31 October 2017 to discuss the announcement to be made in Parliament that day of the Government’s new actions on sexual harassment in response to the Me Too movement, the minutes record his heroic decision to step forward at that moment too:

“Answering that day’s topical question on sexual harassment in the Parliament would provide an opportunity to highlight men’s responsibility to change their conduct and behaviour, and to help bring to an end the sexual harassment and abuse of women – whether in the workplace, in their social life, or at home. To emphasise this point, Mr Swinney proposed that, as the most senior man in the Government, he should answer the question and be explicit in his answer about his reason for doing so.”

Anyone who thinks that this really was John Swinney’s own idea must also think that Dominic Cummings just offers the odd suggestion to Boris Johnson.

According to the First Minister, in her interview last Sunday with Sophy Ridge, it is “age old” that when men are accused of misconduct against women, “often it’s a woman that ends up sitting answering for them”.

What is undoubtedly the case is that when a woman, Nicola Sturgeon, wants to abdicate her responsibilities, it’s often a man, John Swinney, who is wheeled in to help her out with that.

Evans again

But of course there’s a much more serious point at the heart of this. The Salmond inquiry webpages provide a list of its key correspondence with the Scottish Government over the provision of evidence, and one correspondent features there far more than any other.

As usual in this whole affair, the person making all the key decisions about what evidence is to be provided and what withheld is that correspondent, the Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans.

Now let me remind readers of the terms of the remit of the inquiry:

“To consider and report on the actions of the First Minister, Scottish Government officials … ”

We can stop there.

If there is any one Scottish Government official whose conduct is more under the microscope than any other person in this whole inquiry it is the Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans.

It was Evans who ran the whole unlawful investigation into the complaints against Salmond and Evans who made the unlawful decision on those complaints after Sturgeon had “recused” herself completely from that process too, as detailed earlier in this blog.

And it was Evans who was again a key player in the decision to contest Salmond’s judicial review action and to keep contesting it until finally, more than half a million pounds of public money later, even she had to concede that defeat was inevitable.

A plea for rationality

So I ask these questions in all sincerity, and above all as a person who prizes logical and rational thought:

If, because the inquiry is partly into her “actions”, Nicola Sturgeon has to recuse herself from all decisions about providing documents and evidence to the inquiry, why doesn’t Leslie Evans have to do the same?

Why is Leslie Evans still running the Scottish Government’s show?

SALMOND INQUIRY: AN ESSENTIAL QUESTION

In August 2018, in a story breaking the news of the formal complaints against Alex Salmond and the Leslie Evans investigation of them, journalist David Clegg wrote in the Daily Record:

“Acting on a tip-off, we submitted questions to the Scottish Government on October 31 last year, in a bid to ascertain if any complaints had been made about Alex Salmond during his tenure as first minister.”

In January 2019, after the Scottish Government had conceded at judicial review that Evans’s investigation of the Salmond complaints had been biased and unlawful, the Daily Record quoted Salmond’s message to his supporters:

“The Daily Record boasted of a ‘tip-off ‘ about me in October 2017. The question is from who? Perhaps we are now getting very close to finding out.”

It is now more vital than ever that we should find out, and that the inquiry should know, who provided this “tip-off” to the Daily Record.

We must find out, and the inquiry must know, how it could be that David Clegg and the Daily Record knew something about these complaints on 31 October 2017 when, so we are told, no-one in the Scottish Government, up to and including Nicola Sturgeon, had any idea about them.

There is a measure of protection for journalists and their sources in such circumstances under section 10 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981:

“No court may require a person to disclose, nor is any person guilty of contempt of court for refusing to disclose, the source of information contained in a publication for which he is responsible, unless it be established to the satisfaction of the court that disclosure is necessary in the interests of justice or national security or for the prevention of disorder or crime.”

The inquiry is not a court but it’s still a vexed question whether it’s worthwhile for the inquiry to call David Clegg and thereby bring down on itself all of the usual howls of outrage from Scotland’s selectively indignant mainstream media.

There is, however, nothing to stop the Committee asking witnesses to eliminate themselves as the source of the tip-off, which is the kind of thing the police do as a matter of routine to enable them to focus their enquiries properly on genuine suspects.

Nicola Sturgeon, Leslie Evans (again), Sturgeon’s Chief of Staff Liz Lloyd, and of course Alex Salmond himself are all still due to appear before the inquiry, which has announced it will resume taking evidence on 27 October.

They, and all other remotely relevant witnesses, should be asked, on oath or affirmation, if they were the source of the tip-off to Clegg.

SALMOND INQUIRY: THE BLUNDER THAT GIVES THE GAME AWAY

In my first post on this blog, I detailed how the Scottish Government procedure for handling complaints against former Ministers was radically “recast” in early December 2017 so that, bizarrely, it now excluded the First Minister completely from any role in it.

The “recast” turned over the entire responsibility for investigating complaints and deciding whether they were “well-founded” to the Permanent Secretary, an unelected civil servant.

It is unprecedented for a First Minister or Prime Minister to be so excluded from such a procedure and, needless to say, no other government anywhere in the world has copied it since Scotland did it.

Indeed, the Ministerial Code which regulates the Scottish Government, and the equivalent UK Government Code, on which the Scottish version is closely based, both make clear in terms that this politicisation of civil servants is forbidden where current Ministers are concerned.

In the UK Government version:

“It is not the role of the Cabinet Secretary or other officials to enforce the Code. If there is an allegation about a breach of the Code, and the Prime Minister, having consulted the Cabinet Secretary, feels that it warrants further investigation, he may ask the Cabinet Office to investigate the facts of the case…”

And in the (predictably woollier) Scottish Government version:

“The Permanent Secretary may provide Ministers with advice on matters which the Code covers and will ensure procedures are in place to support compliance with the Code. It is not, however, the role of the Permanent Secretary or other officials to enforce the Code.

There is not the slightest reason why that prohibition should not apply equally to matters concerning former Ministers. Indeed, there are many obvious reasons why it should apply with extra rigour where former Ministers are concerned.

Given all of that, I asked why Nicola Sturgeon would have ordered her own exclusion from the procedure or, at the very least, gone along with that exclusion.

The answer is now pretty clear, and another blunder by Sturgeon’s bungling civil servants helps make it clearer than ever.

The route map

The Scottish Government statement to the inquiry says of work done on the procedure up to 7 November 2017:

“This work … included an assessment of the available mechanisms for individuals to raise concerns about sexual harassment. This resulted in the production of a “route map” which described how complaints of sexual harassment might be raised. The route map sought to identify the various routes that complaints at that time could come through, and which policies and procedures were in place to deal with them.”

The emails referred to by the statement do indeed include a very rudimentary route map. However, the route map to which we are then directed by the Scottish Government is not this early, rudimentary version at all, but rather a much later, much more developed version.

Eagle-eyed readers of this blog who care to look will be able to spot how we know this:

The route map produced by the Scottish Government as evidencing work done by 7 November 2017 is dated 31 January 2018.

In fairness, that’s just the minor, irritating incompetence we’ve come to expect from them by now. But what gives rise to this small error is actually a larger and much more significant blunder.

The route map produced to the inquiry does indeed form part of events taking place on 31 January 2018. Documents referred to in other footnotes to the Government’s statement give its proper context.

On that date, an email from a redacted “Head of Branch” of the “People Directorate” to a redacted list of recipients explains that the route map is being attached so that it can be uploaded to the internal Scottish Government system for providing information to employees.

The various complaints procedures summarised in the route map, including the procedure for harassment complaints against former Ministers, are then also to be attached so they can be clicked on as links.

And here’s where the blunder comes in.

The procedure attached is the “recast” procedure approved by Nicola Sturgeon on 20 December 2017, and in which she excluded herself completely from any role, but the route map still shows the old policy, exactly as it existed before she did that.

Employees are thus to be treated to one link to the actual approved policy of 20 December 2017, and another link to this route map which sets out what the policy was before Sturgeon was excluded from it.

I recommend reading the route map’s admirably concise summary of what the procedure was before the December recast as a handy reminder of just how bizarre it was for that procedure to be have been ripped up and thrown away in favour of the unlawful shambles which ultimately resulted in the Scottish Government’s humiliation at judicial review.

As you’ll see, the route map has three sets of boxes which show the progression of complaints under the appropriate headings for each box:

“Subject of complaint” leads to “Roles / responsibilities”, and finally to “Potential Outcomes if founded”.

When the “Subject of complaint” is a “complaint is about a former Minister”, then “Roles /responsibilities” are as follows:

“Permanent Secretary will notify FM.

“Director of People will designate Senior Civil Servant to investigate and prepare report for Perm Sec.

“Perm Sec will consider report and make recommendations.”

Clearly, then, under the pre-recast policy set out in the route map, the “recommendations” of the “Perm Sec” were just that.

They were not decisions.

In particular, they were not decisions about whether a complaint was “well-founded”.

The route map then takes us to the third and final box: “Potential Outcomes if founded”.

Again, it couldn’t be clearer under the route map what it takes for a complaint to become “founded”. The entry in the box is this:

“FM to take action if former minister within party”

In other words, under the policy set out here — the policy as it existed prior to the recast (and still, so it seems, in some people’s minds even after it) — the First Minister was firstly to consider the report from the Senior Civil Servant and the recommendations from the Permanent Secretary arising out of that report.

The First Minister, and the First Minister alone, was then to decide if the complaint was “founded “ and, if so, what action was to be taken on it.

One further striking thing that might be noted about this is that – making the huge allowance for present purposes that the procedure for complaints against former Ministers set out in the route map was otherwise lawful – this procedure does actually comply with the Ministerial Code.

We can only guess at what employees considering a complaint must have made of the two contradictory sets of advice sent to them simultaneously by way of the route map and the recast policy itself.

But the blunder of sending out the pre-recast route map provides the clearest possible reminder of what the policy should have been.

And now Nicola Sturgeon herself has as good as told us why it became something very different.

What Sturgeon has (so far) told the inquiry

According to her written statement provided to the inquiry and finally published last week, by the time drafting of the complaints procedure began in early November 2017, Nicola Sturgeon knew that allegations against Salmond were coming.

She was, she says, told then about “allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of Alex Salmond”.

She continues: “I spoke to Mr Salmond about this allegation at the time. He denied it…”

She was therefore well aware that the new complaints procedure being drafted then by her civil servants was likely to be dealing in due course with complaints against Salmond.

Again, she says so in terms: “[A]ll of the circumstances surrounding this episode left me with a lingering concern that allegations about Mr Salmond could materialise at some stage.”

As a result, according to Sturgeon’s own account: “I sought to ensure that the Scottish Government developed a process that allowed allegations of sexual harassment – including allegations of a historic nature – to be fully and fairly considered.”

She concludes: “I did not do this because I had a concern … that allegations about my predecessor could materialise. But nor did I, in any way, allow such concern to lead me to limit the scope of the procedure.”

As is now obvious, both of these claims are simply untrue.

Sturgeon did instruct that the procedure was to be developed in the way it was so that it could deal with her “concern” about Salmond.

She did “limit the scope of the procedure” because of that concern.

She ensured that her Government “developed a process” such that Alex Salmond’s fate would be decided, to all appearances at least, by unelected civil servants. She “limited the scope” of the procedure by removing herself completely from it.

There is simply no other reasonable explanation for why the procedure changed so dramatically in December 2017.

So, although it seems unaccountable to many, there’s really no mystery to why Sturgeon continues to stand by her hapless civil servants as more and more shocking detail comes to light about their unlawful work on her behalf.

Every unlawful thing those civil servants did was done by them so that Sturgeon would not have to do it herself.

It was done so that she could plausibly deny, as she does to this day, that she had anything to do with it.

These servants of hers have already, quite rightly, taken a great deal of criticism for their bad faith and incompetence, and as the inquiry continues, they can surely expect a great deal more.

The unswerving loyalty of the person who set them up for this fall is, we should grant, the very least they can expect from her.

SALMOND INQUIRY : LIES, LIES, LIES

While the many lies told by the Scottish Government about its treatment of Alex Salmond are now being exposed daily, it’s important to remember that they’re all ultimately in service of one central lie: that Nicola Sturgeon “tried to do the right thing”.

One way in which that lie was exposed by the revelations on Wednesday was the publication of the text in which, on 3 June 2018, Alex Salmond set out for Sturgeon his offer of binding arbitration on the legality of the complaints procedure. As he rightly pointed out, this offer, if accepted, would have conclusively and privately settled that question without the need for the judicial review that eventually followed and without the need for any involvement of the complainers or risk of exposure of their identities.

The offer was rejected out of hand by the unelected civil servant to whom Sturgeon had turned over the whole business, a rejection fully supported by Sturgeon, despite the fact that she is, as Salmond pointed out, herself a lawyer who must surely have been able to see that this was entirely the “right thing” to do for the Government, for the complainers, for Salmond and, as it turns out, for the Scottish taxpayer.

I’ll say more about the detail of this in a future post.

Sturgeon’s “forgetfulness” on when exactly she became aware of the allegations against Salmond is of course the tip of the iceberg of another lie. This has been extensively commented on with varying degrees of insight since Wednesday but again its significance for the central lie remains to be fully exposed.

Sturgeon’s determination to give herself plausible deniability over her Government’s treatment of Salmond from at least November 2017 onwards is at the core of the whole scandal.

I’ll say more about that too in a future post.

Today, I just want to complete the line of thought developed in my last post, on the Scottish Government’s ludicrous claim, maintained to this day, that they conceded the judicial review without ever having done anything wrong.

The reasonable observers

The fault, they say, lies not with them but with this pesky “reasonable observer” who has misconstrued the terms of their procedure and misinterpreted their implementation of that procedure such that the procedure – totally fine in itself – and the actions of their officials – exemplary in their professionalism and impartiality – became somehow biased and unlawful.

This is one lie that can be exposed without the need for any further investigation or evidence.

It can be exposed by the simple means of rational thought.

Let’s think about who a “reasonable observer” might be in the context of a procedure for handling harassment complaints against former Ministers. Clearly, it is not the complainer, because the complainer is a party in the procedure, not an observer of it, and there is no requirement on the complainer to be reasonable, only to make the complaint and have it handled by the procedure. Equally, it is not the former Minister, who is again a party in the procedure with no duty of reasonableness or detachment either.

Now think about who does have the qualities of reasonableness and detachment which the parties in the procedure lack. Those are surely the qualities to be expected – in fact, demanded – of the Government lawyers and senior civil servants who draft, approve and then implement the procedure. Indeed, if I’m not mistaken, these duties of detachment, impartiality and reasonableness are written into their contracts of employment as civil servants and Government employees. They’re contractually obliged to be “reasonable observers”.

Now look at what Leslie Evans and the Scottish Government conceded when they conceded the judicial review. It’s right there in their own Statement for the inquiry:

“[I]t became apparent to the Scottish Government, based on a review of the case which was informed by legal advice, that the combination of two issues could now impact on the case. Firstly, that whilst the meaning of paragraph 10 of the procedure was clear to those involved in its development and operation (i.e. not being involved in the matter being investigated), the paragraph was open to a different interpretation – to mean no prior contact with the complainers in addition to any involvement in the subject matter of the complaint. Secondly, having regard to the totality of the Investigating Officer’s dealings with the complainers before her appointment as Investigating Officer, the reasonable observer would conclude that there was a real possibility that she could not act impartially as she was required to do by the procedure.”

Leave aside the many other grounds on which senior counsel for Salmond apparently advised that the procedure was unlawful, some of which a first year legal trainee could spot. Those too will no doubt be exposed at some point when the inquiry publishes all of the pleadings and notes of argument in the case as it is now free to do.

Consider only this ground of partiality that tainted the whole procedure, and that Evans and the Scottish Government have admitted. Consider the court’s ruling, again in the words of the Scottish Government themselves, that “the Permanent Secretary’s decision report and letter [were] unlawful in respect that they were taken in circumstances which were procedurally unfair and in respect of which they were tainted by apparent bias.”

The responsibility for this unlawfulness of both the procedure and its implementation does not lie with some Johnny-come-lately “reasonable observer” who came on the scene during the judicial review process to find fault with what up until then had been a great job all round.

It lies with the senior civil servants and lawyers – the “reasonable observers” – whose whole job it was to stand back in detached fashion and draft a procedure which, when implemented according to their intentions, would be fair and unbiased.

In their haste to get Alex Salmond, they got that wrong, wrong, wrong, and it’s way past high time they owned up to it.

What the expenses tell us

Wings Over Scotland, in that site’s usual lucid and incisive fashion, picked up on some of these points from this blog in a recent post and had some kind words for it, which are much appreciated. It should hardly need saying that the information and analysis provided day after day, year after year by the Wings site remains by a distance the most important resource that the grassroots Scottish independence movement has.

So let me add this to the excellent analysis in that post of the expenses incurred in the Scottish Government’s unlawful attempt to ruin Alex Salmond.

When they conceded the judicial review, Evans and the Scottish Government also conceded that their whole conduct of the case was such that Salmond was entitled to expenses on the “solicitor and client, client paying” scale. Unfortunately, that dry-as-dust legal terminology obscures what this actually means, and how significant it is.

In the overwhelming majority of cases, court expenses are awarded or conceded on the “party and party” scale, which means that if you win your case, you get the expenses that the other side can reasonably be expected to pay as necessary for your conduct of the action. These are always less than your solicitors and counsel actually charge you – sometimes as little as 60% of your actual costs – and you just have to live with the shortfall.

Only in the most exceptional of cases – I’ve never been involved in one, on either side – does a court award the winning party expenses on the scale which the Scottish Government conceded in the Salmond case.

In McKie v Scottish Ministers [2006] CSOH 54, Lord Hodge reviewed the “well-settled” authority on this, and explained why such an award is so rare. (By way of illustration, this was the case of Shirley McKie, the police officer whose life was ruined when she was falsely accused of leaving fingerprints at a crime scene, whose entirely justified court action was disgracefully opposed and obstructed by her police employers at every turn and who still didn’t get “solicitor and client” scale expenses from Lord Hodge.)

Lord Hodge said this:

“[W]here one of the parties has conducted the litigation incompetently or unreasonably, and thereby caused the other party unnecessary expense, the court can impose, as a sanction against such conduct, an award of expenses on the solicitor and client scale. … [I]n its consideration of the reasonableness of a party’s conduct of an action, the court can take into account all relevant circumstances. Those circumstances include the party’s behaviour before the action commenced, the adequacy of a party’s preparation for the action, the strengths or otherwise of a party’s position on the substantive merits of the action, the use of a court action for an improper purpose, and the way in which a party has used court procedure, for example to progress or delay the resolution of the dispute.”

This, then, is what the Scottish Government conceded about its conduct of the Salmond judicial review and, by extension, of the unlawful procedure which gave rise to it.

Incompetent. Unreasonable. Lacking substantive merit. Improper purpose. Delay.

The oft-repeated claim of Sturgeon, Evans and the Scottish Government that they just got unlucky in some late-discovered technicality in the Salmond case is just one more shameful lie.

SALMOND INQUIRY: THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT’S CASE MAKES NO SENSE

The Scottish Government have submitted a Statement to the Salmond inquiry in which they seek to explain why they waved the white flag in the judicial review without ever having done anything wrong.

As you might imagine, that’s not an easy task, so we probably shouldn’t be too surprised that the Statement makes no sense at all. Nonetheless, it’s a pretty bizarre document even in the context of the somewhat alternative world of senior civil servants who have titles like “Deputy Director for People Advice” and speak to each other about “granular levels” and “lived experience” and “our learning”.

I can’t think of any better way to demonstrate this than to take you through some key paragraphs of the Statement with my own commentary added, so here goes.

Initial procedure

Three straightforward paragraphs to begin with. I have no quarrel with these:

“9. … On 22 August 2018, following the conclusion of the investigation, the Permanent Secretary notified the former First Minister of her decision. This took the form of a decision report and covering letter…

“10. Also on 23 August 2018, [Salmond’s lawyers] notified the Scottish Government that the former First Minister would raise a petition for judicial review of the decision, and on 31 August 2018 legal proceedings were raised by him.”

“23. On 27 September 2018 the Court issued a timetable order.… A substantive hearing was fixed for 4 days to start on 15 January 2019.”

The commission and diligence procedure

We know from a Freedom of Information request answered on 13 September 2019 that there were at least 12 meetings and/or conference calls between counsel and Scottish Government officials, Ministers and/or Special Advisers in the period up to 19 December 2018 when the commission and diligence procedure to recover evidence in the judicial review began. If there were perceived difficulties in the Government’s case to this point, the Statement gives no indication of them:

“26. As part of the process for the recovery of evidence, a Commission (a formal hearing) was held between 19 and 21 December 2018 before a Commissioner appointed by the court after the Petitioner [Salmond] had lodged a description of further evidence that he wanted to obtain from the Scottish Government (a specification of documents). The specification detailed specific source material that needed to be included in the search such as calendar entries and text messages.”

And then suddenly, without warning so it seems, everything just fell apart for the Scottish Government. Paragraph 26 continues:

“During the Commission it became apparent to the Scottish Government that the decision under review had been taken in circumstances in which an impression of partiality would have been created for a reasonable observer by the totality of the prior contact between the individual who was later appointed as the Scottish Government’s Investigating Officer [Judith Mackinnon] and the two members of staff who made formal complaints.”

Clearly, something dramatic must have happened during this three day procedure. After all, it’s no small matter when a “reasonable observer” would gain the impression that a procedure created and run by a brains trust of senior civil servants and lawyers, and approved by the First Minister herself, was biased and unfair. Indeed, all of the members of that brains trust, including the Investigating Officer herself, would surely have regarded themselves as “reasonable observers” who could stand back and spot apparent bias if it had been there to be reasonably observed prior to the Commission proceedings.

Well, let’s see.

Something dramatic?

“27. The Petitioner [Salmond] and Respondents [Scottish Government] agreed to settle the case on the basis of that acceptance. On 8 January 2019 they lodged a joint minute with the Court setting out the terms on which settlement of the case had been agreed, including that the decision under review was unlawful in that it was taken in circumstances which were ‘procedurally unfair and tainted by apparent bias’. The judge in the Court of Session accepted the joint minute and issued a final order bringing the case formally to an end.”

No, we’re no further forward. Yes, this is more confirmation of how dramatic events in the Commission must have been to bring about such a humiliating surrender but we still don’t know what those dramatic events were.

Maybe this will give us what we’re looking for:

“36. Paragraph 10 of the Procedure under which the complaints [against Salmond] were investigated states that the Investigating Officer ‘will have had no prior involvement with any aspect of the matter being raised.’ This reflects provision typically found in employment policies and refers to personal involvement in the matter being investigated. Reference to ‘prior involvement’ was intended to refer to involvement in the incident under investigation itself or its immediate handling. Later involvement, especially many years later, was not intended to compromise an Investigating Officer’s ability to be an impartial collector of facts unless there is some other factor which debars them. In this case, the Investigating Officer (the Deputy Director for People Advice) [Mackinnon] had had no involvement in any aspect of the events being investigated. She had not been part of the Scottish Government at the time of the events in question, which – along with her experience as an HR professional – had informed her appointment as Investigating Officer.”

Again, as far as the Scottish Government are concerned, neither those involved in drafting and approving paragraph 10 of the Procedure nor the Investigating Officer nor the “Head of People” who appointed her put a foot wrong here. Paragraph 10 is fine and dandy, Judith Mackinnon behaved like the consummate “HR Professional” that she is, and Nicola Richards clearly made a great choice in selecting her for the job.

The mystery of why the “reasonable observer” would see bias in any of this only deepens.

The mystery solved?

The next paragraph at least begins promisingly for our quest:

“37. The Deputy Director for People Advice, had contact, before her appointment as Investigating Officer, with the two members of staff who lodged concerns in advance of their decisions to make formal complaints.”

This surely must be it at last. Somehow in the course of the Commission, Mackinnon and others must have remembered events and documents about which they had completely forgotten up to that point and which they now realised would seem to “reasonable observers” (including themselves) to show bias.

Well, no. Paragraph 37 continues:

“This took the form of ensuring they could have access to support from other sources if required and that the process and choices available were understood by the two members of staff. This was in keeping with the role for the Investigating Officer set out in more detail in earlier drafts of the procedure, and in line with her professional HR role. The individuals also shared reflections about what they thought might prevent harassment occurring in the future.”

This can’t possibly be what caused the towel to be thrown in. Not only was Mackinnon acting “in keeping with the role for the Investigating Officer” but she was “in line with her professional HR role” too. What “reasonable observer” could possibly find fault with that?

On then to the next paragraph:

“38. As noted in paragraph 26 above, previously undisclosed documents were provided as part of the Commission for Evidence held between 19 and 21 December in relation to the prior contact between the individual who was subsequently appointed as the Investigating Officer and the two complainers. These documents indicated the nature of this contact was in line with that described in paragraph 37.”

Again, it could hardly be clearer that these “previously undisclosed documents” weren’t the problem for the Scottish Government. Far from undermining anything asserted in the previous paragraph, these documents were themselves “in line” with it; that is to say, they showed that Mackinnon acted entirely “in keeping” with her role as Investigating Officer and “in line” with her role as an “HR professional”.

On again then:

“39. Nevertheless, it became apparent to the Scottish Government, based on a review of the case which was informed by legal advice, that …, having regard to the totality of the Investigating Officer’s dealings with the complainers before her appointment as Investigating Officer, the reasonable observer would conclude that there was a real possibility that she could not act impartially as she was required to do by the procedure.”

Has any word of the English language ever done more work than that “Nevertheless”?

I have searched for anything in the Statement besides the paragraphs set out above which might add anything at all to the “totality of the Investigating Officer’s dealings with the complainers” as described by the Scottish Government. I invite readers of this blog to do the same.

It just isn’t there.

The “totality of the Investigating Officer’s dealings with the complainers”, according to the Scottish Government, was a totality of exemplary HR professionalism and investigatory rectitude. Nevertheless, it had to be conceded that this surely most unreasonable of “reasonable observers” would, for reasons that remain utterly mysterious, see bias.

And then this:

“40. The Permanent Secretary therefore concluded on 2 January 2019 that the Scottish Government should concede the judicial review proceedings because of the apparent bias issue (described in paragraph 39 above).”

Everyone in here is innocent

I don’t know what else to tell you.

Clearly the Scottish Government have done nothing wrong whatsoever and yet “based on a review of the case which was informed by legal advice” they’ve been prevailed upon to cop a plea and hand over a half million pounds of our money.

The words of Morgan Freeman’s character in Shawshank come to mind.

SALMOND INQUIRY: MORE DIVERSIONARY TACTICS BY COPFS

The Scottish Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) appear now to be claiming that material disclosed by them to Alex Salmond’s lawyers cannot be further disclosed by Salmond’s lawyers to the inquiry without a criminal offence being committed.

I know from personal experience that any such claim is false. It is entirely within the discretion of COPFS to authorise Salmond’s lawyers to provide the material to the inquiry or to provide it to the inquiry themselves.

Here’s how I know.

The COPFS material

It is clear that material has been disclosed by COPFS to Alex Salmond’s lawyers which is relevant to the claim of a conspiracy against him and relevant also to the claim that this conspiracy underlies, among other things, the unlawful action taken against Salmond by the Scottish Government.

WhatsApp messages leaked anonymously to Kenny MacAskill MP — sent originally, it seems, by SNP Chief Executive Peter Murrell, and saying that “the more fronts [Salmond] is having to firefight on the better for all complainers” — are said to form part of this material. It has also been reported that messages about Salmond were exchanged among the members of an SNP WhatsApp group which was co-ordinated by a senior SNP official, and that these messages were referred to during a preliminary hearing in Salmond’s criminal trial. These messages too are said to form part of the COPFS material.

There can be little doubt that this material is relevant to the remit of the Salmond inquiry and requires to be disclosed to it before Salmond, Murrell, Sturgeon or anyone else can meaningfully give their evidence and be examined on that evidence.

It remains puzzling that such obvious facts are not self-evident to everyone.

The COPFS claim to secrecy

It is worth setting out what Salmond’s lawyers said about the COPFS material in their letter to the inquiry of 21 September 2020:

“The Crown have reminded us in the strongest terms of the legal restrictions which we have referred to in our correspondence to date. The crown identify that it would constitute a criminal offence for us to release certain material obtained as part of the disclosure in the trial. Both our client and we absolutely have no alternative but to respect that obligation. That is precisely why we have previously suggested that the Committee raise the recovery of that documentation with … Crown Office, whom we do not believe are subject to the same restrictions. They may, of course, take a different view, but it will be for them to explain that to the committee.”

The provisions on which COPFS have evidently relied in their letter to Salmond’s lawyers are sections 162 and 163 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 (the Act) which provide that material disclosed to an accused by COPFS for a criminal trial must not be used or further disclosed for any other purpose, and that to do so is a criminal offence.

Apparently, COPFS are taking the view that there is no way round these provisions. That view is simply wrong, and Salmond’s lawyers are entirely justified in urging the inquiry to pursue disclosure directly with COPFS.

COPFS disclosure in Sheridan v NGN

In late 2015, after years of unremitting slog in the face of the bureaucracy, incompetence, bad faith and utter lack of accountability which defence lawyers know to be the hallmark of COPFS practice generally, and COPFS disclosure in particular, I finally had disclosed to me a good deal of material which was helpful in pursuing Tommy Sheridan’s application to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission.

I was also at that time preparing Tommy’s defence of the appeal by News Group Newspapers Ltd, in which NGN sought a new civil trial for Tommy’s defamation action, which he had won in 2006 and for which he had been awarded record damages.

The disclosure I had prised eventually from the iron grip of COPFS had been given on the usual basis that it was information which would “materially weaken or undermine” the prosecution case or would “materially strengthen” the defence case. Just as Alex Salmond’s lawyers are, I was bound by the terms of sections 162 and 163 of the Act when it came to using that information.

So, knowing that the COPFS material was highly relevant not just to the criminal appeal but to the NGN civil appeal, I wrote to COPFS on 19 November 2015 to ask them for authorisation to use the material in the civil proceedings.

I should say that, as looks likely to be the case with the COPFS material in the Salmond case, this material was dynamite. The documents wrested from COPFS showed, among many other things, that News of the World Editor Andy Coulson and Scottish Editor Bob Bird had conspired with various others to pervert the course of justice in Tommy’s 2006 civil trial by sending their star witness abroad to prevent her being recalled, for fear that she might now tell the truth, and that NGN had hacked Tommy’s phone.

On 16 December 2015, COPFS replied to my request to be allowed to use the material in the civil case and again it is, I think, worth setting out their reply:

“Crown Counsel has now considered your request in detail and has instructed that your client be asked to obtain a court order for the material requested. As civil litigation is ongoing it would be possible for your client to make a motion for specification of documents as part of the commission and diligence process, which motion will not be opposed by the Crown.

“On presentation of this order, the Crown will not re-disclose the material already in your possession however this will permit you to simply re-use the material you already have.”

This letter was put before three judges in the Inner House of the Court of Session at the next hearing of the civil case. Their reaction to the COPFS proposal gave strong encouragement to the belief that the proposal comprised a lot of faffing around to achieve something that for all practical purposes had already been achieved. The material – many hundreds of pages of it – was then simply lodged with the court in eight lever arch files.

No objection was made to this by COPFS, and the court’s eventual judgment in the case, delivered by Lady Paton on 19 August 2016, made clear that the court had no problem with it either:

“The pursuer made an application to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission seeking to have his perjury conviction re-investigated and referred to the High Court of Justiciary with a view to having the conviction quashed. The application was supported by documents concerning the activities of the News of the World.  Many of the documents had been disclosed to the pursuer by the Crown Office after being recovered by police operations. The pursuer lodged many of those documents in the present civil proceedings, in his Appendix A to H.” 

A good few of those many documents concerned NGN’s star witness, and her News of the World story for which Tommy sued, a story nicely summarised by the court as “a totally fabricated account involving, inter alia, bondage, spiked heels, orgies, and whipping.” The provenance of the documents concerning that witness as part of COPFS disclosure could hardly have been clearer, as when Lady Paton narrated how, in Tommy’s arguments,

“[r]eference was made to what appeared to be a witness statement given by [the witness] dated 9 August 2011 taken by DC Cath Murphy … in which [the witness] was noted as stating …

“’Basically the evidence I gave at Tommy Sheridan’s defamation case in 2006 was untrue. I can’t tell you how sorry I am about it, it has completely screwed up my life. I got sucked into it & couldn’t get out of it, it didn’t matter what I said, it didn’t matter to the News of the World that while I was ‘in their care’ I’d tried to commit suicide three times. I felt like I was owned by the News of the World & they’d taken over my life. I’m not proud of what I’ve done, I felt like I had my back against the wall & had to do what they said … I now want to tell the truth …’”

Further, Lady Paton continued, a “persuasive argument” had been presented to the court, “based on material in the defenders’ own records” and such that it was “difficult to see what answer there might be to some of the allegations made”. These included the sending of the star witness to Dubai to prevent her being recalled to give further evidence and material “apparently showing a pattern of phone-tapping, which was said to have allowed the defenders to identify and trace people with whom the pursuer had private contact, with a view to compelling them to give evidence against him”. It was, the judge repeated, “far from clear what answer, if any, there could be” to these allegations.

NGN’s appeal was refused and Tommy kept his damages.

A wee coda

I can’t resist adding that, having endured many years of indignant denials by NGN’s lawyers that their clients were criminals, I finally had the rare and pleasant experience of having Roddy Dunlop QC (who acted for the Scottish Government in the Salmond judicial review, and is now Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, and who was then acting for NGN) interrupt me during a court hearing to make make just that admission.

The interruption came at a subsequent hearing in the Sheridan case before the original trial judge, Lord Turnbull, on 3 November 2017 as I was once again laying out for the court how NGN and its employees had hacked Tommy’s phone and conspired to pervert the course of justice in the civil trial.

“My Lord,” sighed Mr Dunlop, rising from his seat with all the veteran weariness he could muster, “I say this to assist my learned friend and to help this case progress — it can be taken as read that [the star witness] was spirited away and that Mr Sheridan’s phone was the subject of phone hacking. You are free to make of that as you will.”

It was truly a moment to be savoured.

Just another fig-leaf

But back to the Salmond inquiry.

Notwithstanding anything the Act says about the strictly limited use to which COPFS disclosure to an accused can be put, or the criminal consequences that can follow if it is used for other purposes, COPFS clearly believe that they have discretion to allow disclosed material to be used for other purposes by an accused or former accused.

That belief has been sanctioned by the highest court in Scotland in Sheridan v News Group Newspapers Ltd [2016] CSIH 67.

It is therefore false to claim or imply that COPFS are precluded by statute from authorising Alex Salmond’s lawyers to release to the inquiry the material which was disclosed to them for the criminal case. That is precisely what COPFS authorised, and what the court sanctioned, in the Sheridan case.

If there are other reasons why such authorisation should not be given, and why both the inquiry and the public should not be told what was said and done by Peter Murrell and others in these WhatsApp messages, COPFS should state, fully and clearly, what those reasons are.

As things stand, the threatening letter they have sent to Alex Salmond’s lawyers looks like just another fig-leaf in an ongoing cover-up.

SALMOND INQUIRY: WHY DIDN’T THEY ASK EVANS?

Readers of my last two posts will have been disappointed, I’m sure, with both the questions asked and the answers given at the Salmond inquiry yesterday.

It might be worth reminding ourselves of the remit of the inquiry:

“To consider and report on the actions of the First Minister, Scottish Government officials and special advisers in dealing with complaints about Alex Salmond, former First Minister, considered under the Scottish Government’s Handling of harassment complaints involving current or former ministers procedure and actions in relation to the Scottish Ministerial Code.”

I confess I was struggling to identify the relevance to that remit of most of what was asked in the first hour yesterday. I was also shocked at how ill-prepared the witnesses were to answer the few relevant questions that were asked. Is it really too much to ask that such senior and important witnesses, giving evidence on such important matters to a Parliamentary Committee, should brief themselves fully on all of the relevant matters for which they are constitutionally responsible before they turn up?

Leslie Evans at least said she would respond to the inquiry on some of the things she was asked about and didn’t seem to know.

So here are some of the questions that I think should have been asked and to which the inquiry, and the Scottish public, deserve some answers:

Arranging to share the draft procedure with Ms A and others

On 1 December 2017 at 12:10, “Director of People” Nicola Richards wrote in an email to James Hynd, Head of the Cabinet secretariat: “Would you be able to send me the latest version of the process? I agreed with Perm Sec that I would test it with some key individuals.”

Is it true that Evans agreed with Richards, on or prior to 1 December 2017, that the latest version of the process was to be tested on key individuals? If so:

When and how was this agreed?

Was it by text or email and if so, where are those texts or emails?

What did Richards tell Evans about what was involved in the testing?

In particular, did Richards tell Evans that one of the key individuals was Ms A?

Why was Evans apparently unable to remember anything about this specific instance of sharing the draft procedure with a potential complainer when she gave her evidence yesterday?

Sharing the draft procedure with Ms A on 5 December 2017

On 5 December 2017, Richards and “Head of People Advice” Judith Mackinnon met with Ms A, and shared with her the draft procedure as it existed to that date.

In a timeline document, after recording this meeting with Ms A on 5 December, Richards made a further entry for that same day: “NR/Perm Sec 1:1”.

What does that entry mean? If Evans doesn’t know, will she find out from Richards and advise?

Did Evans meet with Richards on 5 December 2017 after Richards and Mackinnon met with Ms A? If so:

Did Richards tell Evans about the meeting that day with Ms A?

Is there written material relating to these events and if so, where is it?

Why was Evans unable to remember anything about this specific instance of sharing the draft procedure with a potential complainer when she gave her evidence yesterday?

The recast of the procedure on 5 December 2017

In all eight previous drafts of the complaints procedure up to 5 December 2017, the First Minister had a central role. She was to be informed as soon as a formal complaint against a former Minister was made. She was to take any steps necessary to ensure the former Minister cooperated with the investigation. She was to be informed when the investigation of the complaint was completed, and any further action on the complaint was hers to consider and take.

In the ninth draft, sent out by Richards at close to midnight on 5 December 2017, all of this was suddenly gone. The First Minister now had no role at all. The Permanent Secretary would now decide whether a complaint against a former Minister was well-founded, and the Permanent Secretary would determine what further action was to be taken on it.

On 6 December 2017, Richards sent this ninth draft to Evans, already calling it the “final version” of the procedure. She was right. This version was essentially what was approved by the First Minister on 20 December 2017, and was the procedure used against Alex Salmond.

Evans was closely involved in the drafting process at the time and has surely reviewed it again closely at least twice – for the judicial review and again for the inquiry – but if the answers to any of the following questions still fall outwith her own personal knowledge, they can be easily garnered from Richards, Mackinnon, Hynd or any of the others who were also involved and for whom she is ultimately responsible.

Why, after 5 December 2017, was the First Minister no longer to be informed of formal complaints against former Ministers?

Why was the First Minister no longer to seek to secure the cooperation of the former Minister with the investigation of complaints?

Why was the First Minister no longer to decide on the merits of complaints and further action to be taken?

Why was that role now taken over entirely by the Permanent Secretary?

Given that every previous draft of the procedure had emphasised the very different roles of the First Minister and Permanent Secretary in the complaints procedure, and the need for both roles to feature in the process to ensure fairness to all concerned, how could a “final version” with a role only for the Permanent Secretary possibly be fair?

Was the “final version” influenced in any way by the sharing of the draft procedure with Ms A by Richards and Mackinnon on 5 December 2017, and if so, how?

It seems to me that practically every one of these questions is more relevant to the inquiry’s remit than most of what was asked yesterday.

But I don’t suppose that any of us are holding our breath exactly for them to be asked or answered in the inquiry.

SALMOND INQUIRY UPDATE

In my last post I described how, on 29 November 2017, senior civil servants Nicola Richards and Judith Mackinnon sought to share the draft procedure they were developing for harassment complaints against former Ministers with “Ms A”, a woman who went on to make a formal complaint of sexual harassment against Alex Salmond in January 2018.

Further documents supplied by Scottish Government officials and published now by the Salmond inquiry show that Ms A did indeed meet with Richards and Mackinnon – on 5 December 2017.

The documents include a timeline updated by Richards on 6 December 2017 and sent to Mackinnon at 22.28 that evening. According to Richards, in her letter last week to the Chair of the inquiry, “This document notes the meeting with Ms A – this took place on 5 December 2017 where the draft procedure was referred to in hard copy.”

The timeline features two entries for 5 December. The first entry says:

“NR/JMack meet Ms A”

The purpose of the meeting between Richards, Mackinnon and Ms A is then recorded as follows: “Sought views on draft policy – whether this would have helped her at the time and how to put in place safeguards for the future.”

The remaining text in the first entry has then been redacted by the Scottish Government.

The second entry for 5 December is somewhat cryptic:

“NR/Perm Sec – 1:1”

One interpretation is that, after meeting with Ms A, Richards had a one-to-one meeting with Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans.

It appears that Richards then worked late into the evening. Just before midnight, at 23.34 that same day, she sent out her “recast” version of the complaints procedure – see the previous post below for full details.

In her email attaching the recast – sent to Judith Mackinnon, James Hynd and “Lawyer 1” – she began, “As discussed today, I’ve made some revisions to the process…”

The timeline also features an entry for 6 December 2017: “Revised policy agreed with legal and submitted to Perm Sec”. In her email to Mackinnon attaching the timeline and the recast procedure, Richards confirmed: “I’ve updated the timeline – and this is the final version of the policy I’ve sent to Perm Sec.”

Evidently, the civil servants were very confident that, within a day of its having been created, the recast procedure would now be the final one.

They were right.

The recast procedure was approved by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on 20 December 2017 after only the most minor of changes.

On oath

I present this further update without comment.

On 1 December 2017 at 12:10, Nicola Richards, the “Director of People”, emailed James Hynd, Head of the Cabinet secretariat: “Would you be able to send me the latest version of the process? I agreed with Perm Sec that I would test it with some key individuals.”

At 14.43 that same day, Hynd replied, attaching the latest version of the draft procedure as requested. “Here you are,” he wrote.

On 25 August 2020, in his evidence on oath to the Salmond inquiry, James Hynd said this:

“To be clear – if I was not earlier – the first that I heard about any allegations was, I think, on 24 August 2018, when there were press reports. I knew nothing before then about any complainer or anybody raising concerns. I knew nothing about the appointment of any investigating officer or about any sharing of the draft procedure with any individuals.”

WHY WAS THERE NO ROLE FOR STURGEON IN THE SALMOND COMPLAINTS PROCESS?

The Scottish Government’s procedure for complaints against former Ministers was fundamentally “recast” on 5 December 2017 after a senior civil servant agreed to “test” the latest draft of it with “key individuals”. One of those individuals, who later went on to make a formal complaint against Alex Salmond, was told in an email of 29 November 2017 that this would give her an opportunity “to consider next steps”.

Until the change, the First Minister had played a central role in each successive draft of the new procedure. After it, she had no role at all in the process.

Instead, complete control over the complaints procedure was handed at a stroke to the Scottish Government’s Permanent Secretary, Leslie Evans. This unelected civil servant was now to take charge of investigating complaints against former Ministers, and was to be the sole judge of whether they were “well-founded”.

Documents recently made public by the Salmond inquiry reveal this sudden and unexplained change of direction. The exclusion of the First Minister from any role in the procedure was retained when the new policy was approved by Nicola Sturgeon herself on 20 December 2017 and duly came into force.

The repercussions of this power shift of 5 December 2017 could hardly have been more important or wide-reaching for Scottish politics.

When complainers who had been waiting in the wings while the new procedure was being drafted then lodged their formal complaints of sexual harassment against Alex Salmond in January 2018, they were dealt with under the post-power shift procedure.

Had this been the procedure as drafted to 1 December 2017, Sturgeon would have been informed by Evans as soon as the formal complaints against Salmond were received in January 2018. Sturgeon would then have been obliged to participate in the investigation process by taking any steps necessary to secure Salmond’s cooperation with the process. And, crucially, Sturgeon herself would have decided on the merits of the complaints made against Salmond, and whether or not they should be upheld.

Instead, the post-power shift version was applied to the Salmond complaints. Sturgeon was not even informed by Evans when the complaints were received. Indeed, by her own account, she only learned of the complaints because Salmond himself informed her of them on 2 April 2018. Sturgeon was, as she herself told the Parliament, forbidden from seeking to “intervene” in the process even when finally informed of it. And the crucial decision on the merits of the complaints was made, entirely without reference to Sturgeon, by Leslie Evans.

If it was Sturgeon’s own idea to suddenly remove herself from the complaints process, why did she do it? If it was not her idea, why did she go along with it?

Plugging the gap

When Sturgeon and her Cabinet ordered a review of complaints procedures on 31 October 2017, the responsibility for drafting new procedures fell quickly on three senior civil servants: the Head of the Cabinet secretariat, James Hynd; the “Director for People”, Nicola Richards; and the “Head of People Advice”, Judith Mackinnon. They reported at every stage to Evans.

Hynd took the lead in producing eight distinct versions of the procedure in the period to 1 December 2017, and in keeping track of the many revisions put forward in between versions by Richards, Mackinnon, Evans and the small group of civil servants and lawyers who were consulted at various points as the drafting progressed.

Hynd seems to have recognised from the outset the value of making the new complaints policy for former Ministers look as much as possible like a simple extension of existing procedures for current Ministers based on the Ministerial Code. The value was this. Framing the new procedure as the mere plugging of a “gap” in the Code’s existing provisions offered by far the best hope of selling it as legitimate policy development and not as an unprecedented departure from ordinary good sense and legality.

The Ministerial Code of 2016, soon to be amended by Hynd but still in force at this time, said this about the behaviour of current Ministers: “The First Minister is … the ultimate judge of the standard of behaviour expected of a Minister and of the appropriate consequences of breach of these standards.”

Accordingly, in his first four drafts of the new procedure, Hynd was careful to make the First Minister the “ultimate judge” of complaints against former Ministers too. To achieve this, and after setting out proposed procedures for investigating claims and having a report of the investigation prepared, he included the same provision each time: “If the former Minister is a member of the Party of the current Administration, the First Minister will consider the report from the perspective of the actions of the former Minister.”

The sought-after analogy with the First Minister’s ultimate authority under the Ministerial Code, on which the perceived legitimacy of the policy depended, is clear.

Richards, Evans and the other civil servants had different priorities. Apparently with the support of the First Minister and her Chief of Staff Liz Lloyd, their overriding concern was to have operational control over the investigation of complaints delegated from the First Minister to civil servants under the direction of Evans. This concern applied to both current and former Ministers and they sought to support it with constant references to their “duty of care” for civil service staff with complaints.

In Hynd’s first four drafts, this too was accommodated. Control over investigation and the preparation of a report of that investigation was duly delegated to the Permanent Secretary and her civil servants in each draft. And in each draft too was the same provision as to what was to happen alongside consideration of the report by the First Minister: “The Permanent Secretary will consider the report from the perspective of ensuring the welfare and support arrangements of the staff member.”

The division of responsibility reflected the perceived different interests of government on the one hand and the civil service on the other. The Permanent Secretary would look after “the welfare and support arrangements of the staff member.” It was for the First Minister to judge “the actions of the former Minister.”

With his fifth draft, Hynd took the development of both strands of the procedure to a new level. Up until this point each version had been about former Ministers only. Now for the first time he produced a draft setting out the complaints procedures for both current and former Ministers in one document. Current and former Ministers were each allotted their own section of provisions but, crucially, each referred to a common provision for investigation and the preparation of reports which would then apply equally to both categories of Minister.

The attraction of this is obvious. What could make the new procedure look more like the simple plugging of a gap in existing measures than to have current Ministers, already very clearly covered by the Code and under the ultimate authority of the First Minister, regulated now by exactly the same provision as former Ministers?

Again, however, the other main strand of policy objective was also being simultaneously accommodated. The common provision which regulated the investigation of complaints and the reporting of those investigations was essentially the same one as in the first four drafts, which had covered former Ministers only. By this means, the First Minister’s ultimate authority over the investigation of complaints was now delegated to Evans and her civil servants for current Ministers just as it had been from the very first draft for former Ministers.

This fifth version was then sent to the First Minister on 22 November and discussed at a meeting on 24 November. However, the drafting process continued unabated and three more distinct versions were produced, each now dealing with both current and former Ministers and each delegating operational powers to the Permanent Secretary and her civil servants while preserving the First Minister’s ultimate authority to decide complaints against both current and former Ministers.

Version 6.2, the eighth distinct version produced in the drafting process, was sent by Hynd to Richards on 1 December 2017. As in every previous draft, investigation and reporting were delegated to the Permanent Secretary but the decision on the complaint, and any action affecting the former Minister, was for the First Minister alone: “For complaints involving a former Minister who is a member of the Party of the current Administration, the Permanent Secretary will inform the First Minister of the outcome of the investigation…. It will be the responsibility of the First Minister to consider any further action.”

The gap unplugged

On 5 December 2017, a mere four days after Hynd’s eighth version was sent to her, Richards for the first time circulated a version of her own, one that changed the game completely. The new version put paid once and for all to any notion that the policy for former Ministers could be seen as analogous to the policy for current Ministers.

The “plugging the gap” argument, always a stretch, was dead.

In the new version, there was no longer any common provision for current and former Ministers. Each was dealt with in entirely separate sections. All previous attempts to make the respective procedures look like two sides of the same coin were abandoned.

For harassment complaints against current Ministers, the First Minister remained, as she always had been, the “ultimate judge of their conduct”, both of whether a complaint was to be upheld and of what the consequences would be if it was.

But for harassment complaints against former Ministers, she now had no role at all: “The Permanent Secretary will … decide whether the complaint is well-founded.”

And then: “The Permanent Secretary will also determine whether any further action is required…”

So much for any continuity with the Ministerial Code. So much for the First Minister as “ultimate judge”. And so much for both the Permanent Secretary and First Minister being needed in the process to look after the separate interests of civil service and government, not to mention the interests of the accused former Minister. Now, only the interests of the civil service were to be represented in the process.

Heroically, James Hynd still tried to present this state of affairs as the mere plugging of a gap in the Ministerial Code and other procedures when he appeared before the Salmond inquiry last week. “I identified the gap in respect of former Ministers,” he told the Committee, “and it was subsequently agreed by the Permanent Secretary and the First Minister that that needed to be filled.” It was, he said “right to fill the gap, but perhaps it had not been addressed in times gone by because of the difficulties and complexities in drafting such a procedure.”

Tactfully, Hynd did not mention that the basis of the eight versions of the procedure in which he had grappled with those difficulties and complexities had been discarded at a stroke in the ninth version drafted by Richards, essentially the version approved by the First Minister on 20 December 2017 and still in force today.

At the time, however, he appeared to at least recognise that there might be a problem. “Thanks for this,” he wrote to Richards on 6 December 2017 to acknowledge her new version. “I have confined myself to thinking about the Ministerial Code aspects. HR colleagues and [Redacted – Lawyer 1] are far better placed than me to offer advice on whether the recast process satisfies best HR practice and our legal obligations.”

The word “recast” screams off the page as does the subtext of the email. Hynd had done his best. Richards, Evans and the lawyers were running the show now.

From “ultimate judge” to “no role”

It is hard to overstate just how much the Richards version of 5 December 2017 was indeed a “recast” and not any mere revision of the draft procedure as it had existed to that point.

In “v.6.2” , Hynd’s last draft before the recast, as soon as a complaint of harassment was received concerning a former Minister of her own Party: “the First Minister will … be informed.”

After the recast, that provision simply disappeared.

Before the recast: “The First Minister will take any steps necessary to ensure that the former Minister cooperates with the investigation.”

After the recast, that provision too disappeared.

Before the recast: “the Permanent Secretary will inform the First Minister of the outcome of the investigation…. It will be the responsibility of the First Minister to consider any further action…”

And after the recast: “The Permanent Secretary will… decide whether the complaint is well-founded….The Permanent Secretary will also determine whether any further action is required…”

The key individuals

Why did this happen?

One possible explanation may lie in an email sent by Richards to Hynd on 1 December 2017, in response to which he sent her v.6.2.

“Would you be able to send me the latest version of the process,” Richards wrote. “I agreed with Perm Sec that I would test it with some key individuals.”

Four days later, the recast version made its first appearance.

Of course, correlation does not imply causation, and these may be two entirely unrelated events. Nonetheless, obvious questions arise.

Who were these key individuals? What was involved in “testing” the process with them? Did Richards proceed with the test? If so, what was the outcome of the testing? Did the process change as a result of the testing, and if so, how? Is the drastically recast process of 5 December 2017 the result of the test with key individuals which was proposed four days earlier?

One further document just published by the Committee may give some further clues as to what the answers to these questions might be.

On 29 November 2017, two days before Richards sent her “test” email to Hynd, a civil servant who had been appointed as a “sounding board ” for potential complaints had an email exchange with “Ms A”, an individual who subsequently made a formal complaint of harassment against Salmond.

The “sounding board” wrote: “As agreed I sent your narrative on in confidence to Nicky [Richards] and Judith [Mackinnon]. I have now been asked by Nicky and Judith if you would be prepared to speak to them following receipt of your narrative.”

The email continues: “As part of this discussion Nicky would like to share with you the developing policy for handling complaints against former and current ministers. This would give you an opportunity to test whether this would have helped at the time and also to consider next steps.”

Later that day, Ms A replied: “I’d be happy to speak to Nicky and Judith, and will text Nicky as suggested.”

The use of that word “test” is surely significant. Was Ms A one of the key individuals on whom the draft procedure was to be tested? Did she take part in a test? And was it in any way as a result of that testing that the draft procedure came to be so radically altered just six days later?

The First Minister

On 24 August 2018, Leslie Evans issued a statement in which she confirmed that the new procedure approved by Nicola Sturgeon on 20 December 2017 had been used to process two formal complaints against Alex Salmond. That procedure was, in all essential respects, the Richards recast of 5 December 2017.

Evans stated that she had advised Salmond two days previously of “my conclusions” and that “I was considering the public interest in making the fact of the complaints and investigation publically known.” She continued, “I am now able to confirm the fact of the complaints”.

The First Minister, she said, “has had no role in this process. I advised her of the conclusions of my investigation on Wednesday and she is of course aware that I am making this statement today.”

Salmond raised judicial review proceedings over the procedure used against him and the Scottish Government was subjected to a humiliating defeat. Again, Nicola Sturgeon, it would appear, played no role in that matter either.

Just as Leslie Evans, an unelected civil servant, had made all the decisions about the Salmond complaints so, it would appear, she made all the decisions about the judicial review too. It is a “well established principle,” the First Minister told the Parliament in her Statement of 8 January 2019, speaking of the Salmond complaints process and the Scottish Government’s concession of apparent bias, “that such a process must not just be impartial in fact, but must also be seen to be so. It was on that basis that the Permanent Secretary decided to settle the case…”

This is not the only part of Sturgeon’s Statement that seems other-worldly. There is a firm conviction of self-righteousness in all that she says, as if the Richards recast was something that came down from the mountain on tablets of stone, and that she had no choice but to accept.

Yes, she happily agrees with Jackson Carlaw, she didn’t know what was going on in her own Government but that was right and proper because she was forbidden from knowing by the procedure.

Yes, “of course” the Permanent Secretary did not inform her of the complaints against Salmond, because that would have been contrary to the procedure.

Yes, she was finally informed of the complaints by Salmond himself on 2 April 2018 but the “important principle” on which she was “absolutely satisfied” was that she did not “seek to intervene” because that was forbidden by the procedure.

And so on.

It is hard to know if she even remembers that as recently as 24 November 2017, when there is no doubt she saw and discussed at length Hynd’s fifth draft of the procedure, it was just as obvious that she would be informed of such complaints as soon as they were received, that she would have had a positive duty to “intervene” in the process in order to ensure Salmond’s cooperation, or even that she herself and not an unelected civil servant would have been the one to make the all-important decisions on the complaints.

But as is vividly demonstrated by the history of the drafting process set out in the documents now made public, the procedure used against Salmond did not come down from the mountain. It was recast dramatically on 5 December 2017 by mere human beings.

So again the questions arise:

If it was Sturgeon’s own idea to suddenly remove herself from the complaints process for former Ministers, why did she do it?

If it was not her idea, why did she go along with it?

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