Swinney to look at possible ‘cooling effect’ of complaints passed to police

The complaints procedure was overhauled in the wake of the botched investigation into Alex Salmond.

Craig Paton
Tuesday 25 January 2022 13:00
The Deputy First Minister said referrals would be made on a ‘case by case’ basis (Fraser Bremner/Daily Mail/PA)
The Deputy First Minister said referrals would be made on a ‘case by case’ basis (Fraser Bremner/Daily Mail/PA)

Scotland’s Deputy First Minister has said he will look again at a governmental complaints procedure which could see some reports passed to police against the wishes of complainers, amid fears of a “cooling effect”.

A new complaints procedure, which mandates that issues raised against current and former ministers will be investigated independently, was released earlier this month.

The procedure comes after the botched investigation into former first minister Alex Salmond under the previous policy, which was deemed to be unlawful and resulted in three inquiries and more than half a million pounds being paid to the current Alba Party leader.

The botched investigation against Mr Salmond led to three inquiries and more than half a million pounds paid to the Alba Party leader (Jane Barlow/PA)

One of the criticisms of the previous policy made during the parliamentary inquiry was that complaints against Mr Salmond of inappropriate behaviour were reported to police without the complainers’ approval.

But the new policy has paved the way for a similar situation to take place.

John Swinney told the Finance and Public Administration Committee at Holyrood that there are “different considerations” that have to be made by government and they must act to “uphold the rule of law” if reports of illegality have been made.

But SNP MSP Michelle Thomson questioned if this could stop staff from reporting problems in the future.

“Where it concerns something to do with sexual impropriety or worse, I’m very clear that people make a complaint because they want to be heard, not because they necessarily take the steps to say ‘this is going to end up in court'”, Ms Thomson said.

“I suppose my question to you is: what active consideration have you given that that could actually have a cooling effect on complainants?”

I think there also has to be an acceptance of the particular obligations that apply to government considering issues that may be in proximity to the exercise of the rule of law

John Swinney

The Deputy First Minister responded: “I think this is a very difficult question, but what I have to air… is the dilemma for government.

“Because if government comes into the possession of information that suggests there may be the possibility of criminality, I think the government has to consider very carefully – given its special role within society… that the specific position of government is recognised as putting an obligation on government to consider how to address those issues.

“Whilst I completely understand the point that Michelle Thomson puts to me, I think there also has to be an acceptance of the particular obligations that apply to government considering issues that may be in proximity to the exercise of the rule of law.”

When pressed by his fellow SNP MSP – who said “we know, and I know, that loss of control over a situation by many will be regarded as further abuse” – Mr Swinney stressed that a judgment on passing reports to the police would be made “on a case-by-case basis”.

“In that judgment, we have to be aware of the particular obligations that government carries to exercise its functions in a transparent and open fashion, given the information that may come into the possession of government,” he said.

Ms Thomson went on to say she believes it important that government also sees complaints from the point of view of the complainers.

“I’ll take that away and consider whether we’ve got the balance of that thinking correct,” Mr Swinney.

“We will give consideration to whether or not our thinking on that is in the right space given the points that Michelle Thomson has raised.”

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