The fall out from the fruitless pursuit of Alex Salmond by Nicola Sturgeon
Sturgeon’s legal background was questioned during and on conclusion of the Holyrood inquiry into her handling of harassment complaints against Alex Salmond who successfully challenged her government’s “unlawful” and “biased” investigation at a judicial review, with the debacle costing the taxpayer up to £1m.
Rape Crisis Scotland also got involved after the event with its public support for two civil servants who at the time they came forward had said they desired only to speak with Sturgeon expressly ruling out any formal complaint of sexual harassment against Alex Salmond.
Their wishes had been ignored by Sturgeon’s government and when the judicial review ruled its actions unlawful and biased their cases were referred to the Crown Office against their will. And adding insult to injury in an act of gross betrayal, one of their names was leaked by a member of Sturgeon’s team to Alex Salmond’s former chief of staff. And to date, no one has been held to account for any part of the debacle.
The revelations of Rape Crisis Scotland also prompted a press response from a lady who alleged she had previously been on the receiving end of rough justice from Sturgeon at the time she was a solicitor with Stirling law firm Bell & Craig.
She said: “The way the women were let down was Sturgeon’s responsibility and it was completely wrong. The outcome of the judicial review was devastating for the government and wholly unsatisfactory for the two women who had made complaints. It goes back to my story; there was no responsibility taken. How can you sail through life like that and not admit any responsibility for when things go wrong? When she told me she was moving on to politics, an alarm bell rang and I immediately thought, that’s why I’m getting nowhere. She was focused on herself and her own career. To me, that’s what she is doing now as well. Where was her focus on the two women who complained about Alex Salmond?
Nov 1997: Sturgeon was investigated by the Scottish Law Society:
Sturgeon worked at Stirling law firm Bell & Craig when the client a battered wife turned to the newly-qualified solicitor for help in July 1996 after years of abuse at the hands of her husband.
Over the next 14 months, despite the woman being followed, threatened and physically attacked, it was claimed Sturgeon did not seek a court order against the woman’s violent partner. The matter was still unresolved when Sturgeon left the company for a new job in Glasgow.
A new solicitor was appointed and briefed by the client that Sturgeon had failed to send off her legal aid application despite claiming that she had done so. The unsent application was subsequently discovered in the client’s file. In stark contrast to Sturgeon’s inaction, the new solicitor immediately secured both legal aid and an interdict with the power of arrest against the husband ending his stalking and threats.
The client wrote to the Law Society in November 1997, saying: “I sincerely hope that you look into this case as I certainly would not wish Sturgeon to ill advise further matrimonial cases which she is clearly not capable of dealing with. The following month, the client’s outstanding fees totalling £542 were waived by Bell & Craig as a “goodwill gesture”.
A year later, in December 1998, the Law Society sent the client a five-page report which stated that her complaint would be investigated in the professional misconduct category. The three individual allegations were:
- Failing to raise the interim interdict against the ex-husband.
- Misleading the client about the legal aid application.
- Failing to properly take her financial circumstances into account.
The Law Society of Scotland appointed a case manager, a solicitor, now Sheriff Olga Pasportnikov to investigate.
In a five-page report, dated Dec 1998, Olga Passportnikov concluded:
“Ms Sturgeon’s failure to provide competent legal services qualified as professional misconduct by breach of code of conduct and conduct unbecoming a solicitor.” She identified three counts ‘of professional misconduct by breach of code of conduct and conduct unbecoming a solicitor’. They were:
- Failing to raise interdict.
- Misleading client about legal aid application. The legal aid form had been completed and signed by the client and the client’s employers but not sent.
- Failing to properly consider the client’s financial circumstances.
The Law Society of Scotland subsequently concluded that there should be no further action since Sturgeon had left the legal profession to contest a seat for the Scottish National Party entering politics without an on the record finding of professional misconduct by the Law Society of Scotland.
2018 The Professional misconduct story resurfaces
According to now-deleted tweets from a former journalist which has now been widely published online a story on the complaint regarding Nicola Sturgeon’s failure to provide adequate legal services to a victim of domestic violence, and the identification of several counts of professional misconduct against her by currently serving Sheriff Olga Pasportnikov had support from the editor of the Daily Record to be published that is until David Clegg the papers Political editor voted the story down.
The deleted tweet went on to allege that sometime later, the “Record” was leaked details of the harassment complaints against Alex Salmond and the investigation by Police Scotland which subsequently led to Alex Salmond being charged with multiple offences. He appeared in court on 21 November 2019 and entered a plea of “not guilty” and at the subsequent trial, Mr Salmond was cleared by a jury trial – heard by Scotland’s Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian.
2015: Olga Pasportnikov the lawyer who previously found Nicola Sturgeon guilty of misconduct was appointed Sheriff of Inverness by the Queen on the recommendation of the First Minister
2021: The Justice Committee hearing of the Register of Judges Interests Petition PE 1458
This is the same Judicial Interests Register petition Nicola Sturgeon has tried to undermine and block since she became First Minister. If a Register of Judges’ Interests did become a requirement Sheriff Pasportnikov who found Nicola Sturgeon guilty of professional misconduct may be forced to list that fact and other details of her service to the Law Society of Scotland.
On Wednesday 3 March 2021 – the Judicial Office for Scotland was asked the following questions:
A currently serving Sheriff – Olga Pasportnikov – conducted an investigation of complaints lodged about Scotland’s current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon while she was a solicitor at a law firm identified as Bell & Craig. Ms Pasportnikov was, as the Judicial Office will be aware – a case manager for the Law Society of Scotland from September 1998 to March 2003.
In a five-page report released in December 1998, Olga Pasportnikov said: “The complaint, in this case, has been identified as professional misconduct by breach of code of conduct and conduct unbecoming a solicitor.”
Olga Pasportnikov found Ms Sturgeon guilty of 3 identifiable counts of professional misconduct: They were: failing to raise interdict as instructed, misleading the client about legal aid application, failing to properly consider the client’s financial circumstances. Ms Sturgeon quickly left the legal profession.
Noting Ms Pasportnikov currently declares her time at the Law Society of Scotland on her Linkedin page as a “case manager” – along with other career attributes including a term at the Crown Office as a Procurator Fiscal Depute, and her current role as a serving Sheriff. Does Sheriff Pasportnikov have any comment on the following questions:
Why she does not list her role in investigating complaints against solicitors?
Why did she find Ms Sturgeon guilty of 3 identifiable issues of professional misconduct?
Why did no regulatory punishment take place upon Sheriff Pasportnikov’s findings?
Does the Judicial Office have any comment on the above events and any comment on the impact of a currently serving Sheriff with a long history as a solicitor, prosecutor and now a judge – having found Scotland’s current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon guilty of three counts of professional misconduct to which no sanction was ever applied by legal regulators and never declared in any register of interests?
5 Mar 2021: The Judicial Office Response
(JOFS) issued a statement to the media claiming Sheriff Pasportnikov had forgotten she had investigated a complaint case involving the current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. A spokesperson for the Judicial Office said:
“The Sheriff was one of a number of case managers working on the Law Society for Scotland’s Client Relations Team from 1998 – 2003. Her role was limited to that of gathering and categorising information as the first step in a much longer process. She did not produce any reports or make any findings. Covering a volume of work, she would not remember specific names in routine cases, including where a solicitor was cleared entirely.”
Comment: A response to the foregoing Judicial Office statement was submitted querying the JOFS claim, and confirming that material now in the public domain does confirm Sheriff Pasportnikov did, in fact, investigate a complaint against Nicola Sturgeon and that Sheriff Pasportnikov identified several breaches of professional misconduct by Ms Sturgeon.
To date, no reply to the additional query has been received, nor has the Judicial Office disputed the terms of questions & information supplied to JOFS staff. It would be difficult to believe a case relevant to the current First Minister was forgotten about by the investigating reporter Sheriff Pasportnikov as there is obviously only one Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland – the current First Minister.
A legal expert comments
An expert in law assessed the material now in the public domain and the deleted tweets from a former journalist who names the Scottish newspaper and a “spiked” story on Ms Sturgeon.
He said: “I hope the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints will now scrutinise the information available and ask further questions of the First Minister in view of suggestions on social media platforms that a former journalist held this information for a number of years before approaching several newspapers seemingly without success. People may reasonably expect questions to be asked of why this story has not come to light until now and the method of travel to the media.”
“Was there a motive in withholding this story involving Scotland’s First Minister, either by a newspaper, a political party or a journalist? I am curious to find out. However, I am also curious as to why no one with the information offered the material in evidence to the long-running Scottish Parliament investigation of issues involving Alex Salmond given the First Minister responded to questions on what appear to be references to the investigation of Ms Sturgeon and a newspaper deal. MSPs should ask rigorous questions of anyone involved in this matter given the situation we face where information now exists alleging the Sheriff complaint probe of Scotland’s First Minister was allegedly swapped for a story on harassment complaints and a Police investigation of Alex Salmond in the summer of 2018”
A Judicial Interests Register would have required declaration of Sheriff’s role in FM Complaint:
It has been previously reported Nicola Sturgeon personally intervened to block the Judicial Register petition during a long-running investigation by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee. The surprise intervention by the First Minister in the bid to bring transparency to Scotland’s secretive judges came to light after a failed attempt by her then Legal Affairs Minister – Paul Wheelhouse – to overturn the petition with claims that ‘gangsters’ could misuse the information in a judges register. In the letter – dated 30 March 2015 – Nicola Sturgeon also revealed Legal Affairs Minister Paul Wheelhouse had a secret meeting in February 2015 with Lord Gill to discuss the petition and the Judiciary & Scottish Government’s concerted opposition to creating the Judicial Register.