An SNP MSP has called on ministers to publish secret evidence given to James Hamilton's probe into whether Nicola Sturgeon broke the ministerial code in dealings with Alex Salmond.

Former cabinet secretary Fergus Ewing has tabled written parliamentary questions which also demand that key details which were redacted in Mr Hamilton's report be put into the public domain. 

Tabling the questions today Mr Ewing claimed the "extraordinary level of redaction was designed to cover up the gravest of misdeeds at the heart of the Sturgeon administration".

But the Scottish Government maintains legal orders were made to protect the identities people who had made complaints about Mr Salmond and that redactions were 'kept to a minimum'.

READ MORE: Judges deliver scathing ruling after Sturgeon FOI battle

Mr Hamilton's findings were published in March 2021 and concluded Ms Sturgeon did not breach the code which sets the standard for ministerial conduct.

In a letter accompanying the document the Irish lawyer, who is the Scottish Government's advisor on the ministerial code, expressed "deep frustration" about the redactions which he suggested made the report's impact limited.

Mr Hamilton, pictured below, wrote: "I am deeply frustrated that applicable court orders will, have the effect of preventing the full publication of a report which fulfils my remit and which I believe it would be in the public interest to publish.”

The Herald:

Mr Ewing noted the defeat of the Scottish Government in an appeal against a ruling by the Scottish Information Commissioner last year to release evidence received by Mr Hamilton during his inquiry but which ministers have refused to publish.

Judges at the Court of Session later issued a scathing assessment of the government's case.

They argued ministers were trying to construct a "technical barrier" in a way that "would defeat the objective of open and transparent government."

Mr Ewing told The Herald: “It is clear that James Hamilton himself believed it to be in the public interest to publish in full and in a furious and unprecedented letter accompanying his report said exactly that in no uncertain terms."

The Herald: Alex Salmond giving evidence to Holyrood's inquiry into the Scottish Government's handling of complaints made against him.

The MSP for Inverness and Nairn, who has become a prominent backbench rebel, added: "My belief is that the extraordinary level of redaction was designed to cover up the gravest of misdeeds at the heart of the Sturgeon administration.

"One way forward would be for the government to immediately drop its opposition to the publication of the Hamilton evidence which has already seen them humiliated in the Court of Session at the public cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds. 

"Then the unredacted Hamilton Report should be handed over to the Scottish Information Commissioner and the redactions justified line by line. 

READ MORE: SNP reject bid to publish James Hamilton code probe evidence

"If the unredacted full report points to any criminality on the part of any individual then that can be reported to the police and justice can take its course. 

"In addition if it transpires there was any political interference in the redaction process then proper procedures must now apply."

In his questions, Mr Ewing presses for a ministerial statement on the Scottish Information Commissioner's ruling on the Hamilton report freedom of information case.

READ MORE: Alex Salmond launches £3m legal action against Scottish Government

He also seeks the publication of the details of the civil servants who were appointed to the secretariat that assisted Mr Hamilton in his investigation, whether any of the civil servants appointed to this secretariat were special advisers, and, if so, were any of them involved in the process of deciding what parts of the Hamilton Report to redact.

He also asks the Scottish Government if it will provide full details of the timetable leading up to the redacted version of the Hamilton Report being issued to the public on 22 March 2021, including (a) when the report was delivered to it by James Hamilton, (b) when information was redacted from the report and (c) whether there was more than one process of redaction.

READ MORE: Operation Branchform: Complainer demands action on probe

In a third question he asks under whose ministerial directions the redactions were made and for the government to provide the name of the lead official in charge of such redactions; "how many civil servants were involved in the process of redaction; whether it will provide, where possible, the (a) names and (b) job titles of those civil servants; whether any special advisers were involved in the redaction process and, if so, whether it will provide their (i) names and (ii) job titles."

His final question asks the Scottish Government if it will publish "any record of correspondence, notes, emails, text or WhatsApp messages, as well as the documents themselves, in the month of March 2021, between or on behalf of Mr Hamilton and civil servants or Scottish Government ministers, regarding the redactions made to the version of the Hamilton Report that was published on 22 March 2021."

Mr Hamilton’s investigation was instigated after Ms Sturgeon made a self-referral under the Scottish ministerial code following accusations she had breached it by failing to properly record meetings and phone calls with Mr Salmond.

Those meetings took place between March and July 2018 and related to allegations made by civil servants of sexual misconduct made against Mr Salmond. 

The Scottish Government launched an inquiry into the complaints, but Mr Salmond took the Scottish Government to court over the probe, with the government admitting defeat and conceding the application of a new process set up to investigate had been unlawful.

Judges ruled the inquiry was "tainted with apparent bias", because the official who carried out the investigation had had contact with the complainers prior to the probe.

In a separate criminal case, Mr Salmond was cleared of all charges against him in March 2020 after he stood trial at the High Court in Edinburgh.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The full text of the Hamilton Report has already been provided to the Scottish Information Commissioner, who accepted the Scottish Government’s reasoning that we could not publish the unredacted report because of the court orders in place.

“In a letter that accompanied his report, Mr Hamilton himself acknowledged the need to make redactions in order to comply with court orders in place to protect the identity of complainers. Redactions were kept to the minimum possible to meet these legal obligations and, as Mr Hamilton requested, we undertook those redactions in a way that indicates the length of text that has been redacted.”