Steven Barrett

The problem with parliament’s partygate inquiry

(Photo: Getty)

Boris Johnson has recently employed the services of the lawyer Lord Pannick, who has given his legal opinion on a House of Commons investigation into Boris Johnson’s partygate comments.

The advice has been published here by the government. It seems to have cost £129,000, which is not expensive, believe it or not, by market rates for someone as eminent as Lord Pannick.

To recap – parliament is proposing to put Boris on trial for the offence of misleading the House. The wrong complained of is when Boris told the House that ‘no Covid rules were broken’ and that the ‘guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times.’ In other words, that no Downing street parties occurred. The Met police disagreed with Boris (although, I didn’t and don’t). And if the Met are right then Boris made an error of law. The Committee of Privileges is investigating though whether a mistake can ever be a lie, and has said that it does not need to prove that Boris intended to lie to find that contempt was committed in the House.

Lord Pannick has considered this and his conclusion is here:

For the reasons set out above, we advise Mr Johnson that the Committee is proposing to proceed by reference to substantive errors as to the ingredients of contempt and the standard of proof required, and is proposing to adopt an unfair procedure.’

So, unless the committee can prove that Boris intended to lie about the parties, the answer to the question, ‘Did Boris mislead the House?’, is no. A court would very likely agree with Lord Pannick – I did. But Lord Pannick goes further and also says that the procedure the committee is using is itself unfair – so they’ve got the law wrong and got the procedure wrong.

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