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FM cleared by ministerial code report

10/01/2013

The First Minister acted fully in accordance with the Scottish Ministerial Code in relation to the debate on the existence or content of legal advice on an independent Scotland’s continued membership of the European Union, an independent report has concluded.

The First Minister appointed Sir David Bell KCB – an independent adviser to the Scottish Government on the Ministerial Code – to conduct the investigation following a complaint by Catherine Stihler MEP.

The report, which has been published today, says:

“I have not found you, or the Scottish Government, to have breached the Ministerial Code in respect of any complaints made by Ms Stihler. I have though recommended that the Scottish Government considers revising those parts of the code relating to legal advice.”

Sir David examined five separate grounds of complaint from Ms Stihler – and in each case he found that the First Minister and the Scottish Government had acted fully in accordance with the Ministerial Code.

The report also concludes that “the Edinburgh Agreement was the appropriate moment to seek specific legal advice from the Law Officers … it was only when the details of the referendum process became clear that you were in a position to seek such advice.”

Sir David also recommends that the Scottish Government considers whether the part of the Ministerial Code relating to legal advice could be redrafted in a clearer and more accessible form – a recommendation which the Government accepts.

First Minister Alex Salmond said:

“I would like to thank Sir David for his very thorough and detailed report, the findings of which clearly demonstrate that there was no breach of the Ministerial Code on this matter.

“I welcome the report which demonstrates that I and the rest of the Scottish Government acted entirely in accordance with the Scottish Ministerial Code. I also welcome his conclusion that the signing of the Edinburgh Agreement was the appropriate moment at which to seek specific legal advice on an independent Scotland’s continued membership of the European Union.

“Sir David also recommends that the Scottish Government considers whether the section of its Ministerial Code relating to legal advice provided to Ministers should be redrafted to make it clearer. That is a recommendation I am happy to accept, and work will now be taken forward by Government officials with that aim in mind.

“This has been the sixth complaint to be referred to the independent panel of advisers I introduced in 2008 to rule on these matters.  I am delighted that each complaint has been dismissed and the advisers concluded my ministers and I have acted entirely properly at all times.”

Related information:

Investigation Timeline

Downloadable document:

Investigation TimelineInvestigation Timeline [PDF, 138.0 kb: 10 Jan 2013]
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University of Reading Report

Downloadable document:

University of Reading ReportUniversity of Reading Report [PDF, 7577.1 kb: 10 Jan 2013]
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