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James Hamilton QC: Who is the lawyer with the potential to decide Nicola Sturgeon’s future?

James Hamilton
James Hamilton QC.

The judgement of James Hamilton has the ability to shape the political future of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

And it is today that his ruling is due to be published following an independent inquiry into whether Ms Sturgeon misled the Scottish Parliament over alleged complaints against Alex Salmond.

The qualified barrister was first appointed as an independent adviser to the Scottish Government’s Ministerial Code in 2013 by former first minister Alex Salmond and reappointed by Ms Sturgeon in 2015.

The first minister, who denies breaching the code, would go on to refer herself to Mr Hamilton in January 2019 to allow him to carry out an independent inquiry into her conduct.

The man behind the independent report, expected to be published on Monday, boasts an impressive CV, previously serving as Director of Public Prosecutions in Ireland from 1999 to 2011, when he took early retirement.

However, he has far from sat idle since then, serving as president of the International Association of Prosecutors, based in The Hague, from 2011 until 2013, when he was recruited by the Scottish Government.

Prior to his inquiry into whether Ms Sturgeon had broken the ministerial code, he was asked by the Welsh Government in 2017 to investigate if its first minister, Carwyn Jones, had lied to the Welsh Assembly about bullying allegations within the government.

Mr Hamilton cleared Mr Jones of breaching the ministerial code and said his account to the Assembly was “accurate and truthful, and not misleading”.

Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, meeting her former Welsh counterpart, Carwyn Jones, at Bute House in Edinburgh for a meeting to discuss their opposition to the Brexit repeal Bill in August 2017.

However, the former Welsh First Minister would announce his resignation to the Welsh Labour conference just five days later, after being left scarred by the scandal.

Trinity College

Mr Hamilton studied History and Political Science at Trinity College in Dublin in 1971 and practiced at the Bar of Ireland from 1973 to 1981.

In 1981 he was appointed as a full-time legal adviser to the Attorney General of Ireland and in 1995 he became the permanent head of the Office of the Attorney General and senior legal adviser to the Attorney General.

He was also responsible for advising the Irish Government on legal issues arising during the negotiations which led to the conclusion of the Northern Ireland Agreement in 1998.

Ministerial code

The scope of his investigation into Ms Sturgeon was much narrower than the parliamentary one and was conducted in private.

This probe is looking specifically at whether Ms Sturgeon lied to parliament, and if she broke the ministerial code by not reporting meetings she had with Mr Salmond when allegations were first emerging.

James Hamilton’s report is the first in a series of developments this week, which could decide the first minister’s future.

A separate Holyrood inquiry report is due to be published on Tuesday, which looks specifically at the mishandled complaints process, after a judicial review found it had been unlawful and tainted by apparent bias.

Finally, Ms Sturgeon will face a no-confidence vote being brought by the Conservatives against her on Wednesday in what looks to be a decisive week for the SNP leader ahead of May’s Holyrood election.

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