Johnson didn’t break the law

There is a huge media furore about the party at No. 10 in May which Johnson attended. Day after day of wall to wall coverage. The assumption of most of the media coverage is that Johnson broke the laws.

However – it seems quite likely that he didn’t in fact break the law. I’ve read two blogs by barristers on this question. [1] Both blogs refer to the same clause in the legislation. This clause says that a gathering was permitted if it took place in a premises owned by a business, charity or a public body. [2] A gathering is specifically defined to include events at which social interactions take place.

It would appear that No. 10 is indeed a public body. Johnson did not break the law. (Technically; those who want to see him as having broken the law need to define the garden of No. 10 as a private dwelling. I’m not 100% sure how this plays out but my impression is that No. 10 would count as run by government – a public body. Johnson lives at No. 11). There is also another apparent get-out clause which relates to an exemption for the Crown. The ‘Barrister Blogger’ below suggests that Johnson would be unlikely to use this as it would be bad optics.

Of course; the parties look terrible and holding them shows terrible political judgment. Perhaps we can explain it by Johnson’s apparent need to be loved and feel popular – in this case by his staff. (Incidentally – a flaw which attracts him to the British public). But it appears that the restrictions in law were focussed on private house parties and allowed a specific exemption for work gatherings including ‘social interactions’. (Which is lucky for Keir Starmer as well!).

I find this an interesting study in how the media works. Of course all the major media outlets have well-staffed legal departments and could certainly get an opinion which would be that Johnson probably did not break the law. Or, at least, that the matter is indeed in a legal ‘grey area’. But in fact most are rushing ahead as if Johnson has a definite case to answer. And based on the latest reports a part of the parliamentary Conservative party is as well. What is happening is that the ‘scandal is the scandal’. There is no real scandal but once the media have called it a scandal it becomes one. (Like Kim Kardashian is famous for being… Kim Kardashian). The medium is the message. Even Johnson himself is dragged into this and seems to feel he has to defend himself as if he did do something wrong (rather than just exercise bad political judgement).

Meanwhile – the real scandals of the pandemic; the tens of thousands who needlessly died in care homes when Covid was seeded into them, the thousands who died after catching Covid in hospital (is this the 19th century where we can’t control cross-infection?), the tens of? thousands who died because GPs closed their doors and hospitals cancelled their operations; the theatrical border quarantines which demonstrably did nothing to block Covid but which cause huge losses to air travel businesses and inconvenience to travellers. And more. All these scandals get a muted article or two and that’s it.

In case it needs to be spelled out – the media works for corporate-financial power and will cover up any systemic scandals while being quite happy to manufacture a show on a point which, from the point of view of finance is neither here not there, namely which political face is in No. 10. At least some people lap it up thinking that they are taking part in ‘democracy’. In reality it is a kind of modern day bread-and-circuses.

Update 20/1/22

I’ve noticed that there is more detail in the comments section of the ‘barrister blog’ below. It seems that by following a tortuous thread the party could be said to be illegal because the law specified that organisers of outdoor parties had to implement government guidance and that precluded Christmas parties though again there seems plenty of wriggle room; the large party in the garden was not necessarily a Christmas party.

I’ve been looking at some press articles about this and it is clear that there is a lot of confusion about this. For example one article in the Independent argues that this obvious party was not a work meeting and so was unlawful. However this does not seem to the the correct defence. This specific point is covered by ‘barrister blogger’.

Basically it looks highly likely that while some minor offences relating to risk assessments or mingling may have taken place Johnson is likely to have a safe legal defence. The ‘scandal’ is thus rather strange. People it seems would rather shout, judge and pontificate than try to see what the law actually said.

Notes

  1. https://barristerblogger.com/2021/12/06/did-boris-johnson-break-the-law-with-the-downing-street-party/?fdx_switcher=true https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/did-the-downing-street-party-break-the-law
  2. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2020/1374/regulation/6/made

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer