A FORMER SNP deputy leader has accused Nicola Sturgeon of a “grave” breach of the Scottish ministerial code after she made comments about Alex Salmond’s acquittal on sexual assault charges on live TV.

Jim Sillars said the First Minister failed in her duty to uphold the “highest standards of behaviour” when she made the comments at yesterday’s daily briefing.

He said people watching would have inferred the jury was wrong based on Ms Sturgeon's "weasel words". 

Mr Sillars, who was Mr Salmond’s party number two in the early 1990s, has asked the Scottish Government’s top official to take action over the matter.

HeraldScotland: Camley's Cartoon: Alex Salmond to appear at Holyrood.Camley's Cartoon: Alex Salmond to appear at Holyrood.

Mr Salmond was acquitted on all counts of sexual assault at a High Court trial last March.

During Wednesday’s briefing, the First Minister seemed to question whether the verdict mirrored his conduct.

Referring to Ms Salmond’s accusers, she said: “They came forward with complaints. 

“The behaviour they 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 claimed of [sic] didn’t happen, and I think it’s important that we don’t lose sight of that.” 

In a letter to Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, Mr Sillars said those remarks breached the ministerial code in a way which was “extraordinary, unique in its gravity, and a matter of deep concern”.

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He said: “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 Code (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 braches of the Ministerial Code.”

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Mr Sillars asked Ms Evans to see that the potential breach was properly investigated.

Although it did not name anyone, the Faculty of Advocates today issued a statement in light of the heated debate over the Salmond affair not to impugn Scotland justice system.

It said: “The Faculty wishes to remind all concerned of the importance of maintaining confidence in the judicial system and in the rule of law

“Maintaining that confidence requires, amongst other things, recognition of the importance of the independent role of the Lord Advocate, the independent role of the courts and, perhaps most importantly, the vital place of the verdicts of impartial juries in criminal proceedings.”

Mr Sturgeon polices the ministerial code with respect to the conduct of her ministers, while an independent adviser, James Hamilton, investigates complaints about her. 

He is currently looking at whether she breached the code  while Mr Salmond was being investigated by her officials for alleged sexual misconduct in 2018, and whether she misled parliament about her actions.

Ms Sturgeon’s official spokesman today repeatedly refused to explain or expand on Ms Sturgeon’s comments about the Salmond verdict.

The Scottish Government has been asked for comment.