A Crown Office intervention in the Alex Salmond inquiry has been described as “astonishing” and “highly irregular” by a spokesman for the former first minister.
Mr Salmond’s legal team has been instructed to write to Lord Advocate James Wolffe to demand an explanation for the actions of the prosecution service after a day of drama at Holyrood on Tuesday.
The former SNP leader pulled out of his scheduled appearance before the committee investigating the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment allegations against him, after the parliament redacted evidence it had published from Mr Salmond on Monday night.
The submission was censored after the Crown Office raised legal concerns over the contents of the document.
SNP politicians and Rape Crisis Scotland had previously warned that publishing the evidence could jeopardise court orders protecting the anonymity of the complainants in Mr Salmond’s trial last year, in which he was cleared of all charges.
MSPs on the committee were due to meet on Wednesday to discuss its next steps, including a proposal that Mr Salmond could give evidence on Friday.
A spokesman for the former first minister said he had “never refused to give evidence and remains happy to do so”.
However, he added: “In light of this astonishing decision to intervene at the 11th hour and in light of the timing, Mr Salmond asked the committee to defer his evidence by 48 hours to enable his legal team to consider the full implications of this extraordinary intervention.
“Mr Salmond has now asked his lawyers, Levy & McRae, to write to the lord advocate as the head of the Crown Office to ask for an explanation for the Crown’s unprecedented and highly irregular actions.”
The lawyers have tabled a series of questions relating to the move by the Crown Office, its legal basis and the process.
They have also been instructed to “request specifically that the Crown preserve and retain all material and communications with all or any third parties which led to their decision to intervene at the very last minute just as he was set to give his evidence”.
Meanwhile, Labour committee member Jackie Baillie also demanded an explanation from the lord advocate.
“The credibility of the inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints, and indeed the credibility of the entire parliament, hangs in the balance,” she said.
“The Crown Office’s unprecedented intervention yesterday demands explanation – we cannot have this parliament cowed into submission by the will of the Crown Office.
“The lord advocate must appear before the parliament to explain the actions of the Crown Office immediately.”