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Time for Truth?

Is time up for the Alphabet Women?

Wednesday, December 6, 2023
11 mins

Time for Truth?

Our latest poll ran for three days.

‘Do you believe that the so-called 'Alphabet women' (Alex Salmond's accusers) will ever be identified publicly?’

  • Yes 62.7%
  • No 37.3%
  • 1,058 votes

Again, the simplest of questions generates even more:

If a sizeable majority of respondents are confident that Alex Salmond’s accusers will be identified, where does that confidence come from? We can’t assume that all voters were Salmond supporters or even that they are all independence supporters, SNP members, mischievous unionists or anything else. The numbers are what they are and we must accept them at face value.

By pure coincidence, an important hearing to decide whether or not further information about Alex Salmond’s accusers can be revealed is to be held today. We would not have been aware of it had it not been the feature of Wings’ latest blog.

Wings Over Scotland | The Spider’s Web

 The link below should allow access to live coverage of proceedings. 

The Scottish Ministers v The Scottish Information Commissioner (scotcourts.gov.uk)

We don’t know if the hearing will be subjected to virtual ‘redactions’ in the form of temporary suspension to allow contentious material to be heard. We don’t know if any decision will be reached today, or anytime soon for that matter. But we will be watching with great interest.

Here is the full summary of what the judges will be considering, copied from the scotcourts.gov.uk website, not amended in any way: 

‘The Scottish Ministers v The Scottish Information Commissioner

Case reference number

XA10/23

Date of hearing

Wednesday, 6 December 2023

Division

First Division

Judges

Lord President, Lord Pentland and Lord Boyd of Duncansby

Agents and Counsel

For the Appellant (the Scottish Ministers)

  • Agents: Scottish Government Legal Directorate
  • Counsel: James Mure KC and Paul Reid KC

For the Respondent (the Scottish Information Commissioner)

  • Agents: Anderson Strathern
  • Counsel: David Johnston KC

Judgment Appealed

Decision 004/2023: Written evidence to James Hamilton’s investigation into the First Minister under the Ministerial Code

Case description

This is an appeal by the Scottish Ministers under section 56 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 against a decision of the Scottish Information Commissioner.

On 7 March 2018, former First Minister Mr Alex Salmond was notified that an investigation had been commenced against him by the Scottish Government, as a result of complaints received by two civil servants regarding his behaviour during his time as First Minister. Mr Salmond’s successor, the (now former) First Minister Ms Nicola Sturgeon met Mr Salmond’s former Chief of Staff, Mr Geoff Aberdein, on 29 March 2018. Thereafter, she met Mr Salmond three times, and spoke with him by phone three times, between 2 April and 18 July 2018.

On 13 January 2019, Ms Sturgeon referred herself to the independent advisers on the Scottish Ministerial Code for an alleged breach of the Code. The breach was said to concern whether Ms Sturgeon failed to record the meetings and phone calls in accordance with the Code, and/or whether she attempted to influence the conduct of the internal investigation into Mr Salmond’s behaviour.  An independent adviser, Mr James Hamilton, investigated. On 22 March 2021, he issued his report in which he determined that Ms Sturgeon had not breached the Code.

Two weeks later, the Ministers received a request under the 2002 Act from Mr Benjamin Harrop for all written evidence ingathered by Mr Hamilton’s investigation.  The Ministers declined to provide the information on the basis that Mr Hamilton was independent of them. Any information held by Mr Hamilton was not “held” by or on behalf of the Ministers within the meaning of section 3(2) of the Act. Therefore, the information held by Mr Hamilton did not fall within the scope of the Act and did not require to be disclosed by the Ministers. The Minsters also relied on the exemption in section 30(c) of the Act that disclosure of the information would cause substantial prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs. They upheld that decision upon review.

Mr Harrop appealed to the Scottish Information Commissioner under section 47(1) of the Act. On 31 January 2023, the Commissioner determined that the Ministers were wrong to find that they did not “hold” the information ingathered and held by Mr Hamilton and his team. There was an appropriate connection between the information and the interest of the Ministers. The fact that access to the information had been restricted to Mr Hamilton and his team was a procedure which was put in place by the Ministers; they could revoke it if they wished. He ordered the Ministers to carry out a further review and respond to Mr Harrop anew by 17 March 2023.

The Ministers appeal the Commissioner’s decision. They argue that he has taken too technical an approach to the word “held”, and that it would be destructive of Mr Hamilton’s independence if they were entitled to access the evidence he has ingathered. The information has not been ingathered or held for the purposes of discharging any of the Ministers’ functions. Any connection between them and the information is therefore not an “appropriate” connection.’

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