Sturgeon did not breach ministerial code, inquiry finds

Investigation was carried out by Ireland’s former director of public prosecutions

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon leaves her home in Glasgow on Monday ahead of publication of the inquiry report. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Nicola Sturgeon did not breach the Scottish government's ministerial code in her handling of sexual harassment complaints against Alex Salmond, an independent investigation has found. Ireland's former director of public prosecutions James Hamilton concluded that Ms Sturgeon did not deliberately mislead the Scottish parliament or breach the code in a number of other ways alleged by Mr Salmond.

The first minister welcomed the report as a vindication of her conduct as the Scottish government dealt with complaints against Mr Salmond in 2018.

“I sought at every stage in this issue to act with integrity and in the public interest. As I have previously made clear, I did not consider that I had broken the code, but these findings are official, definitive and independent adjudication of that,” she said.

“Prior to its publication, opposition politicians stressed the importance of respecting and accepting the outcome of Mr Hamilton’s independent inquiry, and I committed wholeheartedly to doing so. Now that he has reported, it is incumbent on them to do likewise.”


The Scottish government appointed Mr Hamilton as an independent adviser in 2011, when Mr Salmond was first minister, and he holds the same role for the Welsh government.

A judicial review found that the Scottish government’s handling of the complaints against Mr Salmond was biased and unlawful and the exercise cost the authorities more than £500,000 (€583,000) in legal bills. Mr Salmond was subsequently charged with 13 sexual offences and was acquitted on all counts after a criminal trial.

The former first minister told a Scottish parliament committee investigating the government’s handling of the allegations that figures around Ms Sturgeon were part of a malicious effort to destroy his reputation. He said that during a meeting at her home on April 2nd, 2018, the first minister had offered to intervene on his behalf, something she has repeatedly denied.

Judicial review

The parliamentary committee will publish its report on Tuesday and is expected to conclude that Ms Sturgeon misled parliament by not mentioning a meeting with Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff on March 29th 2018 and by denying that she offered to intervene in the complaints process. Mr Hamilton said it was for parliament to decide if it had been misled but that Ms Sturgeon did not do so deliberately.

“I accept that this omission was the result of a genuine failure of recollection and was not deliberate. That failure did not therefore in my opinion amount to a breach of the ministerial code,” his report says.

Mr Hamilton also found that Ms Sturgeon’s decision to continue to fight the judicial review of her government’s handling of the allegations after external lawyers said it was hopeless did not breach the code.

“There is undoubtedly scope for political criticism of the manner in which Scottish government handled Mr Salmond’s proceedings. That is not a matter for me to express any view upon,” his report says.

“Mr Salmond appears to be under the misapprehension that the government is under a duty to withdraw a case if advised that there is less than an evens chance of winning. There is no such rule and the prediction of the outcome of cases is not an exact science.”

The Scottish parliament will on Tuesday debate a Conservative motion of no confidence in Ms Sturgeon but the Scottish Greens said on Monday that they would oppose it, guaranteeing the first minister's survival.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times