25th. February 2021
Ms. Leslie Evans
St. Andrew’s House
Dear Ms. Evans,
FIRST MINISTER IN BREACH OF THE MINISTERIAL CODE ON 24TH FEBRUARY 2021
I wish to lodge a complaint of breaches of the Ministerial Code by the First Minister on Wednesday 24th. February, 2021. The substance of the complaint, and the facts it is based upon, are set out below.
As the complaint could be seen as being in the context of matters being examined by the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry, to which you have given evidence, you may think it inappropriate for you to be the official dealing with this complaint. If that is so, then I request that the next person in seniority should take this as addressed to them. I would like to be informed of who will deal with this complaint, should it not be you.
In her daily press briefings on the pandemic, the First Minister has consistently refused to answer questions on issues other than Covid-19. Yesterday, however, instead of refusing to respond to questions on matters irrelevant to the purpose of the press briefing on Covisd-19, she deliberately chose to do so. Not once, but five times. It can be seen here:
You will note “coronavirus briefing.” The national broadcaster was in no doubt of the purpose of First Minister’s appearance. These briefings have all along had only one purpose. The timings show her response to questions which were asked as the briefing continued. I have had them double-checked as to times:
30.20 Question from James Matthew (SKY News)
First Minister spoke for 48 seconds on what can fairly be described as the Salmond issue.
32.57 Question from Peter Smith (ITV)
First Minister spoke for 5m 16secs on Salmond issue
52m 49scs Question from Simon Johnson (Daily Telegraph)
First Minister spoke for 1m 36scs on Salmond issue
1h. Question from Michael Blackley (Daily Mail)
First Minister spoke for 52 seconds on Salmond issue
1h 02m “Question from Richard Percival (Daily Express)
First Minister spoke for 59 seconds on Salmond issue.
In total, she spent over 9 minutes of a meeting called to inform the public, through the media, including BBC television, of the government’s continuing action on the pandemic crisis, not to express her views on clearly separate matters arising from the Parliamentary Inquiry.
Of course, the First Minister was not to know that the first question from James Matthew was not about Covid-19 and government policy in dealing with. But she did not, as on previous occasions, refuse to answer and re-state the purpose the briefing was convened for. Nor did she do that when the second question came from Peter Smith, and the others. The only conclusion that can be drawn from her action from 30.20 on, points to it being no accident; a deliberate choice.
When I state “the Salmond issue” above I mean what can be seen from the BBC iplayer – a sustained attack on Mr. Salmond on matters relevant to the Parliamentary Inquiry, but not remotely connected to a Covid briefing.
The complaint is, therefore, based on the attacks on Mr. Salmond in a forum that had been arranged by the Scottish Government to inform the public on a subject, the pandemic, a matter of serious public concern, in which maximum publicity would be given to the words of the First Minister. It is a gross breach of her duty to use that Government sponsored forum, for a public attack on Mr. Salmond in matters not related to the purpose of a briefing to which the media had been invited.
I submit that it is a breach of the Ministerial Code to allow, and then use, a public health Covid briefing to launch an attack on Mr. Salmond in the context of matters arising from the Parliamentary Inquiry. By her conduct as recorded by the BBC, she is in flagrant breach of the Clause 1 of the Code, and Clause 10 governing the conduct of Ministers and the Presentation of Policy.
It is not for me to question a decision by the First Minister to make a public attack on Mr. Salmond. But if she wished to do so, then she could have arranged a press conference on the subject, which would have been the proper and legitimate forum in which to do so. Abusing the Government Covid briefing was neither proper or legitimate. That is where the Code has been breached.
However, there are additional breaches of the Code which are quite extraordinary, unique in their gravity, and a matter of deep concern for all who understand the implications of what the First Minister said in those 9 minutes.
During her attacks on Mr. Salmond she said:
“The behaviour complained of was found by a jury not to constitute
criminal conduct and Alex Salmond is innocent of criminality, but that
doesn’t mean that the behaviour they complained of didn’t happen
and I think it’s important that we don’t lose sight of that”
Unlike the First Minister, who did not attend Mr Salmond’s trial, the jury was there for every second. They saw Mr. Salmond, cross examined, precisely denying that the alleged behaviour happened. The jury saw and heard prosecution witnesses under cross examination. The jury’s conclusion, with a majority of women on it, was to acquit Mr. Salmond. If as the First Minister states the jury’s verdict means that the complaints they had before them in evidence did in fact happen, then the only logical conclusion you can draw from her words is that the jury was wrong in its verdict – 13 times.
Those were weasel words employed by the First Minister, and any reasonable person would draw more than an inference from them that the jury was wrong. The First Clause of the Ministerial Cod (1.1) states that “Scottish Ministers are expected to maintain high standards of behaviour and to behave in a way that upholds the highest standards of propriety.” The First Minister’s comment on the trial verdict, breached those standards.
I have been in public life for over 60 years, and in the course of it studied how heads of state and governments in the democracies have behaved in office. I cannot recall one single incident when the head of a government so egregiously questioned the verdict of a jury, or event thought it a proper and legitimate discharge of their duty to do so.
It is vital to the health of a democracy that Government more than any other part of our society maintain a scrupulous distance between it and intervention, even post-trial intervention, in our criminal justice system. That is the standard reflected in Clause (1.1) of the Code. Clause 1.3 states, inter alia, that Ministers “should uphold the administration of justice.” The First Minister, knowingly, breached those parts of the Code with her comments on the trial.
I submit that there is overwhelming evidence that on several counts the First Minister has engaged, deliberately, in grave breaches of the Ministerial Code.