NICOLA Sturgeon’s future in politics may rest not so much in the hands of the MSPs on Holyrood’s Harassment Complaints Committee but in those of top Irish lawyer James Hamilton QC.

The barrister is expected to publish his report shortly on whether the First Minister breached the Ministerial Code in relation to the events surrounding Alex Salmond and the bitter aftermath of his successful legal challenge against the Scottish Government.

Sturgeon asked Hamilton to conduct the inquiry and has denied she has breached the code.

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So with discussion turning on what Hamilton’s conclusions may be, it is perhaps timely to look at his career and background.

Born in Dublin in 1949, James Hamilton – known as Jim to his friends – attended Drumcondra Church of Ireland National School and then the Hibernian Marine School in the affluent coastal suburb of Clontarf.

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He finished his secondary education in The High School, before going to Trinity College Dublin to study history and political science.

After Trinity, Hamilton studied law at King’s Inns and was called to the bar in 1973. He worked on the Northern Circuit and from 1977 to 1981 was state prosecutor for Donegal. In that year he joined the office of the attorney general (AG) where his rise was steady.

During his career there he witnessed a number of high profile controversies when the boundaries between law and politics collided.

In 1992, the attorney general’s office became embroiled in the landmark “X Case” about whether a young girl should be allowed an abortion in the UK.

The then attorney general Harry Whelehan was granted an interim injunction preventing the 14-year-old from obtaining an abortion in the UK. Reports later emerged Hamilton was opposed to Whelehan’s position.

His stance back then proved sound. The case was appealed to the Irish Supreme Court who heard the girl was suicidal as a result of the rape, the pregnancy and her inability to obtain an abortion. The appeal was won and the young girl was allowed to travel to get an abortion.

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Another controversy involving the attorney general’s office two years later concerned the extradition of a paedophile priest – and eventually brought down Ireland’s Fianna Fail/Labour coalition government.

Hamilton became known to the public as “Official B” in the controversy surrounding the delay in the extradition of the paedophile priest, Brendan Smyth, to Northern Ireland. The delay led to the fall of the government in November 1994, and to the early retirement of Hamilton’s superior official in the attorney general’s office.

Five years later Hamilton was appointed director of public prosecutions (DPP), the Irish equivalent to the Lord Advocate’s role as head of Scotland’s prosecution service.

Profiling the new DPP in The Irish Times at the time, the legal journalist Carol Coulter described Hamilton as a lawyer and civil servant who would not be pushed around by politicians or by the police.

Coulter added: “He is very highly regarded among his legal colleagues, and no one within a normally bitchy profession could be found to criticise him.”

A leading solicitor told her: “He is very highly thought of as a lawyer. He cleared up the mess in the AG’s office when he took over in 1995 and built up morale there.”

According to his LinkedIn profile, Hamilton was DPP in Ireland until November 2011 – a stint of 12 years in the high profile role. Towards the end of his career in this role, in 2010 he became president of the International Association of Prosecutors, holding the post for three years.

In 2013 he was appointed by Salmond’s administration as an independent adviser to the Scottish Government on its Ministerial Code. He was later appointed to the same role for the Welsh Government.

In the latter role Hamilton carried out an independent report into whether Wales’ then First Minister Carwyn Jones misled the assembly over allegations of bullying at a senior level of the Welsh Government.

Hamilton’s inquiry, which reported in 2018, cleared Jones of breaching the Ministerial Code and said his answers to questions on the matter in 2014 and in 2017 were “accurate and truthful, and not misleading”.

Hamilton is a lawyer used to dealing with highly sensitive, complex and sometimes tragic events. He lists among his skills criminal justice, political parties, prosecution and rule of law.

They are areas of expertise he will be drawing on as he prepares to publish his report on the First Minister.