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Scottish Government’s harassment complaints process to be rewritten, Nicola Sturgeon says

THE Scottish Government’s bullying and harassment complaints procedure for ministers and former ministers will be rewritten just months after its implementation, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

The First Minister said the current system would be changed following criticism from opposition parties that the scheme was excessively secretive.

The current process means findings against Scottish ministers could be withheld from the public.

The bullying and harassment complaints procedure was overhauled last year following the Alex Salmond trial.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon: I will apologise to Patrick Grady victim in person

The current system was introduced in February by Deputy First Minister John Swinney with the changes designed to offer more protection to civil servants who make complaints against ministers.

It meant investigations would be undertaken by outside experts rather than government ones.

Speaking at First Ministers’ Questions on Thursday, the First Minister said she was “not comfortable” with findings being withheld from the public, saying that she has sought advice on whether the findings could be made public despite data protection laws.

Sturgeon said the Scottish Ministerial Code and complaints process would now be changed to ensure such findings were made public. This would only apply to future cases.

Sturgeon was asked about the allegations against SNP MP Patrick Grady being upheld by a House of Commons watchdog.

The SNP MP made unwanted advances against a young staffer in a pub in 2016.

The First Minister said the watchdog’s findings were “of course published, as is right and proper”.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar asked the FM if those same rules should apply in Scotland.

He asked the FM: “Do the Scottish people not deserve the same transparency?”

Sturgeon replied: “I do think that people deserve transparency, and I am grateful to Anas Sarwar for raising the matter, because it gives me the opportunity to update members on what I said when he last raised the issue with me.

Scottish Government’s harassment complaints process to be rewritten, Nicola Sturgeon says
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar criticised the SNP over its complaints process

“It is absolutely the case that we are limited in what we can publish by legal requirements on data protection and confidentiality issues.

“That is not a situation that I am comfortable with. I was not comfortable with it – as people could probably see – when I answered questions the last time that I was asked about it.”

Sturgeon said she asked for advice on whether, in the future, there would be ways of making it possible for the Scottish Government to report publicly the outcome of complaints involving ministers and “whether there was a way of doing that without breaching the legal requirements that I have referred to”.

She continued: “The advice that I have now, which I have only very recently had, is that, although we cannot apply this retrospectively, there is a way to do that in relation to future complaints.

“I can confirm to the chamber that that will involve changes to the ministerial code and probably also to the complaints procedure that is in place. Work is now under way to make the necessary changes to facilitate that happening in the future.”

Sarwar accused Sturgeon of “hiding behind GDPR” data protection laws, adding that it is “perfectly reasonable to ask the Scottish Government to make clear the outcome of investigations of Scottish ministers”.

Sturgeon said: “Nobody has said that it is more important to protect the SNP than it is to protect the victim. I think that I have made my view very clear that support for victims of sexual harassment must come first.

“I have to rely on the advice that I get as the First Minister, and that advice is clear about retrospective situations.

READ MORE: Serious failings in Patricia Gibson sexual misconduct probe found after MP cleared

“However, I was not prepared to accept that for the future without challenge, which is why I sought further advice.

“It is why I asked for advice on the ways in which we could be consistent with our legal obligations but also with what I believe is the important obligation of transparency.

“That is why we will move forward now to make necessary changes to the ministerial code and to the procedure, to allow information to be published in the future.”

The Scottish Government has not yet released a timeframe for when the new changes will come into effect.



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