Nicola Sturgeon: Suggestion judicial review timing was 'gamed' for criminal case to take over 'absurd'
Nicola Sturgeon has rejected the suggestion the concession of the judicial review action brought by Alex Salmond was delayed in the hope the criminal investigation against him would take over.
Speaking at the Salmond Inquiry this afternoon, the First Minister labelled the suggestion “absurd” and said at no point did the Scottish Government seriously consider sisting the judicial review.
Asked to comment on the accusation the Scottish Government had ‘gamed’ the timing of the judicial review, as alleged by Mr Salmond, Ms Sturgeon rejected that was a credible suggestion.
She said: "Generally this idea that we were gaming...the timing of the judicial review to allow a police investigation to over take it is absurd and bizarre and completely without any evidential or factual foundation.
"You can see from the advice the the process that was being gone through and the idea that we could have done that, it would have involved the police, us knowing what was going on in the police investigation, what the timing of that was and the police being prepared, that’s just absurd.
"Anybody who suggests otherwise is I think stretching the credibility of even the most devout conspiracy theorists.”
Giving evidence on the judicial review – the concession of which led to costs of more than £500,000 to the taxpayer – Ms Sturgeon also said an error from Judith McKinnon, who was appointed the investigating officer in the harassment complaints, was “catastrophic”.
Legal advice shows details of a meeting and prior contact between Ms McKinnon and complainants before she was appointed as investigating officer came to light at a very late stage.
Counsel described themselves as being “extremely concerned” following this revelation.
Despite these issues and the warnings from counsel at earlier stages of potential vulnerabilities in the case, the First Minister maintained the decision making during the judicial review process was “legally sound”.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Up until as late as December 11 it was the opinion of law officers that we had a statable case with credible arguments and for that reason as well as the wider public interest we should continue.
"That [error] that you’ve described there was dreadful, catastrophic, that was the heart of what went wrong with the judicial review and of course it reflects what went wrong in the application of the procedure.
"I will defend our decision-making throughout this judicial review, including up to that where it was right that the decision then followed that we would concede the case.
"I won’t defend what led to that note because I actually share your views on it.
"Do I think that is all deeply and horrendously regrettable, yes, but what is regrettable is the error that then progressively came to light that got us to that point.
"I actually think the handling of the judicial review was legally sound.
"You can argue, people can take different views of whether all of the decisions that were taken would be ones they would have taken, but the decisions taken in the conduct of the judicial review, in my view, were legally sound decisions.
“And they were taken in lines with the views of the law officers which as far as I am concerned in terms of my responsibilities under the ministerial code is the test I need to pass.”