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Labour accuse Salmond of using ministerial code as 'get out of jail' card

Justice spokesman Lewis Macdonald criticises process after First Minster refers himself over EU legal row.

First Minister Alex Salmond..

Labour have called for a review of the ministerial code, claiming First Minister Alex Salmond is using it as a "get out of jail free card" on difficult issues.

Justice minister Lewis Macdonald said the code was "not fit for purpose" and should be reviewed by an independent judge.

It follows the First Minister's decision to seek an arbitration under the code over the Scottish Government's refusal to disclose whether it had sought legal advice on an independent Scotland's EU membership.

Labour MEP Catherine Stihler wrote to Mr Salmond asking for a formal investigation into the matter.

The First Minister has referred himself under the ministerial code on five previous occasions and been cleared each time.

In an interview with Scotland Tonight this week, he said: "I can't pre-empt any decision of the ministerial code. I'd merely say if you were a football team that had won five and lost nil, then you should be reasonably confident of upholding the ministerial code."

Two former lord advocates - the Rt Hon Lord Fraser of Carmyllie QC and the Rt Hon Dame Elish Angiolini QC - and Sir David Bell, a former permanent secretary in the UK Government's education department, will investigate if the First Minister broke the code.

EU legal row

Mr Macdonald accused Mr Salmond of stacking the odds in his favour and called for a review into the way the code operates.

He said: "The ministerial code is being used by the First Minister as his get out of jail free card.

"Instead of being used as a way of keeping the ministers honest, he is using it as a defence as he bends and tries to get round the rules. It's not fit for purpose.

"The truth is Alex Salmond effectively writes the code, signs it off and then decides who will police it.

"There is no justice system in the world where the accused gets to write the law, pick the judge and decides when they are charged.

"In this case we know that the real charge against Alex Salmond is that he lied to the Scottish people about Europe, and it won't be examined.

"We now need someone of genuine independence like a judge to review the code and the way it operates."

The row over the European issue erupted this week after Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon revealed the SNP administration had not sought specific legal advice on what status Scotland would have within the EU if it left the UK.

Ms Stihler had submitted a Freedom of Information request on the question of legal advice which was initially upheld by the information commissioner.

The Government went to court to try to overturn the decision, but after spending £4,000 in legal fees it dropped the action last week, prompting Ms Sturgeon's statement to Parliament.

On Thursday Mr Salmond told MSPs at First Minister's Questions: "The findings of the independent advisers will be made public. I will accept them and I hope all members of this chamber will do the same."

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