Leslie EvansPhoto: David Anderson
Civil service trade unions have thrown their weight behind the Scottish Government’s permanent secretary after she faced a threat of legal action from Alex Salmond over her handling of allegations of sexual misconduct against the former first minister.
Salmond has applied to take Leslie Evans to judicial review over claims relating to the period when he was first minister.
He denied the allegations and claimed Evans acted improperly by using a procedure that was not in place at the time to which the allegations relate.
In a joint statement, the PCS, Prospect and FDA unions said: “Civil service unions met with the permanent secretary today and have confidence that the Scottish Government will continue to take seriously and handle sensitively all complaints of harassment.
“The unions are confident that the Scottish Government processes which we negotiated are valid and robust and if any member wishes to make a complaint then they will receive the full support of their trade union.
“We also indicated our full support to the permanent secretary personally in leading the process and would encourage any worker with any concerns to come forward.”
Stating his intention to take the legal action, Salmond, who was Scotland’s first minister from 2007-14, said: “For many months now, and on the advice of senior counsel, I have attempted to persuade the permanent secretary to the Scottish Government that she is behaving unlawfully in the application of a complaints procedure, introduced by her more than three years after I left office.”
He added: “It is therefore with great reluctance that I have today launched a Judicial Review in the Court of Session which will decide the issue of the lawfulness of the procedure which has been used against me.
“If I lose then I will have to answer to the complaints both comprehensively and publicly.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said that it would defend itself “vigorously” against Salmond’s complaint, adding: “We can confirm that Alex Salmond has initiated legal proceedings against the Scottish government and as a result we are restricted in what we can say.
“However, the Scottish government will defend its position vigorously. As a matter of principle and integrity, it is vital that any allegations of harassment are treated seriously and investigated thoroughly, regardless of the identity of the party involved.”
In a subsequent statement, Evans said that last November she agreed with the first minister Nicola Sturgeon that, in light of wider concerns about harassment in Westminster and the Scottish Parliament, an internal review would be carried out into the Scottish Government's procedures for handling complaints in the workplace. As part of that review, a new procedure on handling harassment complaints involving current or former ministers was introduced.
“Following the conclusion of an internal investigation I can confirm that the Scottish Government received two complaints in January in relation to Alex Salmond. Mr Salmond was notified of the complaints in March and the details of the procedure under which the complaints would be addressed.
“I informed Mr Salmond and the people involved on Wednesday, August 22 of my conclusions and that I was considering the public interest in making the fact of the complaints and investigation publically known.”
She added that’s Salmond’s statement on the allegations “contains significant inaccuracies” that would be addressed in court proceedings and reiterated that the Scottish Government would defend its position vigorously.