Nicola Sturgeon ministerial code: What is the ministerial code? Is it legally binding?

Nicola Sturgeon should not resign says Jeane Freeman

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An independent inquiry investigating Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has cleared her of allegedly infringing the ministerial code. Irish lawyer James Hamilton said she had provided an “incomplete narrative of events” during the Alex Salmond investigation but dubbed this a “genuine failure of recollection”. The ruling means she is free and clear of ministerial code infractions, which Conservative MSPs cited in their calls for her resignation.

What is the ministerial code?

Ms Sturgeon said she was “delighted and of course, relieved” as news of the report emerged.

The ruling from Mr Hamilton states she has not fallen foul of provisions made by the ministerial code, which governs how public officials act in the UK.

Each code also sets out how a given government should function, including decision-making procedures and rules surrounding collective responsibility.

They must also observe the Seven Principles of Public Life, which include the following:

  • Selflessness
  • Integrity
  • Objectivity
  • Accountability
  • Openness
  • Honesty
  • Leadership

Is the ministerial code legally binding?

Every public servant must abide by the provisions set out in the ministerial code, and breaking its boundaries should warrant punishment.

The ministerial code mirrors the UK’s constitution in that it guides based on convention.

But it is not legally binding, and as such, upheld by expectation rather than legislation.

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Much like adhering to the code, punishing infractions counts on enforcers to “do the right thing”.

Independent advisers investigate alleged breaches and report their findings to a potential rulebreaker’s manager.

The manager decides how to proceed from there, with a range of potential punishments open to them.

But the final decision is made at their discretion, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson has demonstrated in the past.

Earlier this year, an independent inquiry into Home Secretary Priti Patel “found evidence” she had broken the ministerial code.

The Cabinet Office-led inquiry started in January following cross-departmental allegations of bullying and harassment from Ms Patel.

Sources told The Guardian the inquiry had found evidence the Home Secretary treated civil servants poorly and produced evidence of bullying.

Mr Johnson was responsible for reprimanding Ms Patel and responded by asking ministers to “form a square around the Prittster” via WhatsApp and asking her to make a public apology.

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