Lies, politicians and the criminal law: How do we solve a problem like Boris?

10th July 2019 / NewsBits

By Steve Peers – To say I dislike Boris Johnson would be the understatement of the century. I anticipate his defeat as an MP – however unlikely a prospect – with the same level of enthusiasm as an antifa activist entering a milkshake factory. If it actually happened, I would cheer loud enough to shatter glass in the Shetlands.


And yet I think the recent judgment quashing the possibility of prosecuting him for making a misleading statement about the UK’s contributions to the EU is the right one. Not because I respect him, or because I am happy with the prospect of politicians making false statements. But because partisan cases make bad law. Despite my own disdain for Johnson, my reluctant chant would be: “Don’t lock him up.”

Let’s examine Johnson’s case in more detail (for more on the legal mechanics, see the Secret Barrister’s explanation). First of all, what did the judges say? They disallowed the prosecution for misconduct in public office on the grounds that it did not satisfy the elements of the offence.

Johnson was not acting as a public officer and was not carrying out a public duty when campaigning in the referendum. Moreover, they thought the lower court had failed to explain why the prosecution was not vexatious.

They did not refer to human rights issues, but rather assumed that when parliament previously passed laws constraining false statements made about the character of another candidate in an election it “must deliberately have excluded any other form of false statement of fact, including those relating to publicly available statistics”.





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