Partygate: Time to rethink fixed penalty notices, says Jacob Rees-Mogg

Cabinet minister claims fines assume ‘you’re guilty until you prove your innocence’

Adam Forrest
Monday 16 May 2022 09:45
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Rees-Mogg dismisses 100 fines for parties as ‘non-story’

Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg has called for a rethink over the use of fixed penalty notice (FPN) fines handed out to Boris Johnson and Downing Street staff over the Partygate scandal.

The Brexit opportunities minister claimed that FPNs defy the British tradition of burden of proof – arguing that they assume “you’re guilty until you prove your innocence”.

FPNs were first introduced under Margaret Thatcher’s government during the 1980s to deal with minor traffic offences, and have been used as an alternative to court prosecution.

More than 100 such fines have been issued by the Metropolitan Police to the prime minister, his staff and other Whitehall officials over parties found to have violated Covid laws.

“If we go back to the 1980s … there was an argument made in the House of Commons that [FPNs] reverse the traditional British burden of proof argument,” Mr Rees-Mogg told The Sun.

He added: “I think you always need to look at how things have worked when they’ve been going for some decades to see whether the intended consequences are what was expected.”

Mr Rees-Mogg said the FPNs “assume you’re guilty until you prove your innocence”, adding: “It’s the wrong way around and that is problematic if you’re the constitutional purist.”

Once you have been issued with an FPN, you can accept that you have committed the offence and pay the fine – or decide to challenge it and take the matter to court.

The Brexit minister – who has claimed Partygate is a “non-story” in which the public is losing all interest – said he accepted there was a “proportionate balance” in dealing with small offences outside out court.

However, suggesting it was time for a rethink, Mr Rees-Mogg added: “Is it possible the society will want to reopen that? Yes, it is.”

In an update last week, the Met police said its Operation Hillman team had now recommended 100 fines. The force said its investigation, into 12 separate events, remains ongoing.

Mr Johnson said he had not been issued with another fine, after he was punished last month over his rule-breaking birthday party in June 2020.

Downing Street is braced for the full, damning report into the scandal from Ms Gray once the Met police inquiry is concluded, after only a short summary was published in January.

Mr Johnson also still faces an investigation by MPs on the Commons privileges committee into whether he misled parliament with remarks saying “all guidance was followed” at No 10.

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