Does Partygate fine mean Boris Johnson now has a criminal record?

Covid fine is first time a sitting PM has been punished for breaking law

Sam Hancock
Tuesday 12 April 2022 23:19 BST
Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak fined over Downing Street lockdown parties

Boris Johnson is facing fresh calls to resign after it was announced that he, his chancellor Rishi Sunak and wife Carrie Johnson will all receive fixed-penalty notices (FPN) for breaking Covid laws following a police investigation into Downing Street parties during lockdown.

Labour leader Keir Starmer called on the politicians to leave office, saying the prime minister and Mr Sunak had “broken the law and repeatedly lied to the British public”.

Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister and SNP leader, said Mr Johnson “must resign” and went as far as accusing him of “breaking the law and repeatedly lying to parliament”. Questions remain over whether he intentionally misled Commons after he told MPs that all Covid rules were followed, and branded various events “work-related”.

But, clearly convinced, Ms Sturgeon said on Tuesday: “[Mr Johnson] broke the law and repeatedly lied to parliament about it. The basic values of integrity and decency – essential to the proper working of any parliamentary democracy – demand that he go.

“And he should take his out of touch chancellor with him.”

Why were fines issued?

The FPNs relate to parties held at No 10 while London, and the rest of the UK, was under strict lockdown regulations.

Downing Street has now confirmed that Mr Johnson’s fine relates to a birthday gathering held for him while severe Covid restrictions were imposed on the public. The event, which a Tory MP infamously suggested Mr Johnson had been “ambushed with a cake” at, after it was exposed, was also attended by Mr Sunak and Mrs Johnson.

A spokesperson for No 10 said. “The Metropolitan Police have now explained that the FPN issued to the PM will be in relation to the following incident: ‘On 19 June 2020, at the Cabinet Room 10 Downing Street, between 2pm and 3pm, you participated in a gathering of two or more people indoors’,” the official said.

Police made clear that further fines may also be issued to those already penalised, suggesting they are working through cases event by event rather than individual by individual.

Does this mean Johnson will have a criminal record?

The unprecedented development, in what has become the worst scandal to hit the Conservative Party since Mr Johnson took office in 2019, has led many to speculate whether the Tory leader’s FPN means he will now hold a criminal record.

In short, the answer to this question is no, he will not. As the Criminal Records Office (Acro) explains on its website: “Fixed penalty notices issued for offences under coronavirus legislation are non-recordable, so whether an FPN is paid or contested, it will not be recorded on the Police National Computer (PNC).”

However, the government agency adds that what might happen is an offender’s details are “held by the relevant [local police] force”.

What next?

While it appers Mr Johnson will not come away from Partygate with a criminal record, the embarrassing situation marks the first time a prime minister has been fined or prosecuted for breaking the law during their time in office in such a way.

News of his FPN came after the Metropolitan Police force announced it was handing out at least 30 more fines on Tuesday – bringing the total to more than 50 – as part of the Operation Hillman inquiry into 12 events alleged to have broken laws designed to prevent the spread of Covid during 2020 and 2021.

Of the 12 gatherings, a number are known to have taken place in 10 Downing Street’s garden, inside No 10 itself, and one in the prime minister’s own residence at No 11.

Confirming reports that Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak had been told they would be charged, a spokesperson for the prime minister’s office said: “The prime minister and chancellor of the exchequer have today received notification that the Metropolitan Police intend to issue them with fixed penalty notices.”

Refusing to say whether Mr Johnson would contest the fine, likely to be £20 or £50, the official added: “We have no further details, but we will update you again when we do.”

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