The Lord Advocate said he was not involved in the decision to ask parliament to redact Alex Salmond’s evidence but failed to answer questions about why so much was censored.
James Wolffe QC was called to parliament to answer an urgent question about the Crown Office intervention that caused published evidence from the former first minister to be taken down and heavily redacted.
Mr Wolffe, who is head of the Crown Office, the body for prosecuting crime in Scotland, and a member of the Scottish Government, insisted there was no political pressure on the decision.
In response to a question about he was consulted about the letter from the Crown Office, Mr Wolffe said: “No, I was not.
“The decisions in relation to this matter were made by senior professional prosecutors acting independently as they always do, and without reference to the law officers.”
He added: “Scotland’s public prosecutors take difficult decisions which some may find unpopular.
“They take those decisions objectively, professionally and in the public interest, and they act independently of any other person.”
Asked by Scottish Labour’s acting leader Jackie Baillie whether he was “aware of what was going on” before the Crown Office raised concerns with parliament, Mr Wolffe replied: “I received a copy of the letter for my information after it had been issued.”
Ms Baillie then raised a meeting between the Crown Office and legal firm Levy and McRae, who represents both Mr Salmond and the Spectator, ahead of the magazine’s legal challenge of the anonymity order.
The magazine had published almost all of the “the crown’s sole concern was one paragraph” in their reproduction of Mr Salmond’s evidence, Ms Baillie said.
She continued: “No other concerns were raised, nor have they been raised subsequently.
“So given this article has been up – and is still up – since the 15th of January, and this is essentially Mr Salmond’s submission can he perhaps advise what has changed in the Crown Office?”
The revised version uploaded by parliament on Tuesday afternoon had redacted a further five sections – a total of 474 words – in which Mr Salmond accused Ms Sturgeon of misleading parliament and breaching the ministerial code.
Mr Wolffe replied: “I’m not going to get into the substance of the issues here, not least because, in doing so, there would be a risk to myself in breaching the court order.
“Can I also say that fundamentally what’s at issue here is an order by the High Court handed down to protect the anonymity of complainers.
“The Crown’s sole interest in this matter is to secure respect for that court order.
“It has not sought and will not seek to limit the evidence which the committee may have available to it, nor to interfere with the work of the committee.
“Ultimately it’s for the parliamentary authorities to determine what they may lawfully publish within the bounds of the order laid down by the court.
“The crown, as it does with any case where it is apprehensive contempt may take place raises issues and concerns, and its sole purpose in doing so is to secure compliance with the order laid down by the court.”
Mr Wolffe, who has been asked to reappear before the Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish Government’s unlawful investigation of the former first minister, added: “At no time have I encountered any situation in which ministers have sought to influence a prosecutorial decision.
“If any minister were to try to do so, I will not countenance it, nor, I am confident, would any professional prosecutor who acts on my behalf.
“Ministers know that they should not seek to do it, and they don’t do it.”
Following the exchange, Ms Baillie said: “It is simply unacceptable that the Lord Advocate refused to answer the questions put to him with any detail.
“The news that he was not consulted about the letter from the Crown Office to the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body brings us no closer to understanding the Crown Office’s actions.
“The fact of the matter is that the Parliament is not getting straight answers from a Lord Advocate who appears to have viewed this afternoon’s session in the chamber as a necessary chore and not a chance to engage with the Scottish Parliament in a spirit of democratic accountability.”
Shortly after Mr Wolffe’s appearance, the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body (SPCB) said the decision to redact the evidence after receiving a letter from the Crown Office was “taken collectively and with great care” and was committed to the “protection of the identity of the complainants”.