TAXPAYERS were left with an unusually high bill after a legal case won by Alex Salmond because the Scottish Government mishandled its side of the litigation, its top law officer has admitted.  

The Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC said additional costs had been awarded against the Government because it disclosed critical evidence “very late in the day”, taking the final bill to £512,000.

He told MSPs the late disclosure was “unsatisfactory”, but added: “The world is not  perfect... These things happen in litigation. Litigation is not a scientific exercise.”

He also said the additional fee had been "entirely right" in the circumstances.

The Government’s case collapsed after it disclosed material relating to a sexual misconduct probe into Mr Salmond that showed it had been fundamentally flawed.

A Holyood inquiry is now examining what went happened.

Government officials started investigating two complaints against Mr Salmond from female civil servants in January 2018.

Mr Salmond launched a judicial review at the Court of Session in August 2018 after the investigation concluded, and in December the government made its key disclosure.

It admitted the investigating officer in charge, who should have been unknown to the complainers, had been in prior contact with them, rendering the entire probe unfair, unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias”.

After the Government case collapsed in January 2019, Mr Salmond was awarded costs on an above-average “agent and client basis” because of errors on the Government’s part.

In a recent letter to the Holyrood inquiry, Mr Wolffe said the Government “accepted that an additional fee was justified on a number of heads”, but did not say what those were.

However it is known that the key piece of evidence was only disclosed to Mr Salmond’s team during a disclosure process at court just before Christmas 2018.

Giving evidence to the Inquiry this morning, Mr Wolffe was asked by Tory MSP Murdo Fraser whether the Government’s defence had been “incompetent or unreasonable”, the two textbook grounds for agent and client costs, “or both”.

Mr Wolffe said: “That was a reflection of the way in which disclosure of documents emerged in the course of the litigation, and the unsatisfactory circumstance that very late in the day the Government conceded the case on the basis of information which by that time had come to light, but in a context where it had taken some time for documents to be produced.

“It’s a reflection of the course of the litigation and a reflection of the legitimate expectation that as fas as possible the government will identify the material at an early stage.

“That didn’t happen in this case, and the consequence followed.

“It was entirely right that an additional fee be paid.”  

Pressed on whether the Government’s unsatisfactory handling of the case amounted to incompetence or unreasonableness, the Lord Advocate said: “I’m not going to use any particular adjective. The world is not perfect. Things don’t go as one would like to see them. One would always like to see the Government able to take the right decisions at the right time, at the earliest possible point in the context of a litigation.

“In this case, for reasons that the committee will I’m sure be interested in exploring, the decision wasn’t made until a late point in the case.

“These things happen in litigation. Litigation is not a scientific exercise.

“In my own professional experience, it’s not unusual for a Commission [of documents] process to result in the identification of material that, in perfectly good faith, witnesses didn’t previously identify and for that to cast a different light on a litigant’s position.”

He did not say what the bill to taxpayers might have been if costs had been awarded on a lower, and more typical, “party and party” basis.