HOLYROOD’s senior justice minister today called for a judge-led inquiry into the Scottish Public Prosecutor’s Office into their handling of the SNP financial inquiry.
Rep Kenny MacAskill’s intervention comes after we revealed that police officers had requested a search warrant on the home of Nicola Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell during the SNP’s top election campaign – but the Crown Office only approved it after the contest ended.
The details of the arrest warrant were handed to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, headed by the Lord Advocate, who is also a Minister in the Scottish Government, on March 20 by investigators.
But it wasn’t until a fortnight later, on April 3, that the Crown – which oversaw the police investigation – gave the green light to the search of Ms Sturgeon’s home and SNP headquarters, allowing it to be authorized by a sheriff.
The dramatic raids happened two days later, on April 5th.
But our revelations have sparked speculation as to whether the option offering has been put on hold to avoid disrupting the end of the race for the SNP leadership, which ended on March 27.
Mr MacAskill, Justice Secretary from 2007 to 2014 and now MP for Alex Salmond’s Alba Party, said the police investigation “may have been” delayed by what appeared to be political considerations.
He said the Scottish Government should launch “a judge-led inquiry into the role of the Crown Office and the Procurator Fiscal Service” given the timetable.
East Lothian MP Mr MacAskill said: “These are matters of the utmost gravity and seriousness with huge implications for the workings of our legal system and our democracy.”
“As Minister of Justice, I was involved in changes to speed up the warrant process. At that time there were delays due to bureaucracy and IT systems.
“I never imagined that police investigations could be delayed by seemingly political considerations.
“Therefore, today I call for a judicial inquiry into the Crown Office and the Procurator Fiscal Service to restore confidence in this vital institution and to reassure the public that the decisions of the Crown Office and the Procurator Fiscal Service have not been carried out.” influenced political considerations.”
Mr MacAskill said there must be “absolute clarity that there has not been and will not be undue outside interference in the democratic process”.
He said this “can best be resolved through the separation of powers between the Crown Office and the Procurator Fiscal Service and government, which is currently the responsibility of the Lord Advocate”.
He added: “However, the public can’t wait, which is why we need an investigation now.”
Early on Wednesday, April 5, police officers stormed Ms Sturgeon’s home and the SNP’s headquarters and arrested Mr Murrell.
He was later released without charge pending further investigation.
The same happened on April 18 to former SNP party treasurer and MSP Colin Beattie.
The search warrants reportedly included a list of items seized during searches.
Also on the same day, a luxury SNP motor home was seized from Mr Murrell’s elderly mother’s home.
Last night Tories questioned why there was a two-week gap between crackdown requests from detectives investigating allegations of fraud within the SNP and the Crown’s completion of a warrant request for a sheriff.
Despite the gap between the police request and the Crown’s approval of the warrant, the Crown does not, of course, accept that there has been any delay.
The Crown Office also says that the Lord Advocate and his fellow barrister, the Attorney General, are not involved in the SNP fraud case because of their dual role as ministers in the Scottish Government.
A spokesman for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said: “COPFS understands the interest in this case, but to protect the fair administration of justice we urge restraint in public comment.”
“It is standard for any case involving politicians to be dealt with by prosecutors without the involvement of the Lord Advocate or Solicitor General.”
“COPFS will continue to work with the police in this ongoing investigation.”
The Crown and the Scottish Government have been asked to comment on Mr MacAskill’s comments.
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