We forced the Met to investigate Downing Street over Partygate – today we saw justice

We felt like something bigger and more important even than the prime minister’s possible criminality was at stake

Jolyon Maugham
Tuesday 12 April 2022 17:04
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<p>The police are supposed to apply the law without fear or favour</p>

The police are supposed to apply the law without fear or favour

Lawyers aren’t great believers. We spend our lives unravelling the carefully constructed lies of others. And it makes the most terrible cynics of even the sweetest natured of us. But there are a few things we do believe in – and are prepared to fight for. And one of them is the idea that the law is just and fair.

That’s why, for so much of the legal profession, it was agonising to watch the Met ignore evidence of criminality at No 10 and No 11. We knew others had been fined for breaking the lockdown rules. We remembered Matt Hancock expressing himself “speechless” at Neil Ferguson’s trysts.

We knew the terrible sacrifices that so many families had made – people who had watched their mother die over a video link – and then been unable to go to the funeral. And we had seen the Queen mourning her husband, alone.

While at Downing Street, they partied.

How could it be right not to investigate? How could the public continue to believe that there was one law that applied to everyone when all the evidence suggested the contrary? What would that mean for the rule of law? So we – the Good Law Project – commissioned legal advice from top policing barrister Danny Friedman QC and leading authority on Covid regulations Adam Wagner on whether, by refusing to investigate, the Met was itself breaking the law.

And we didn’t just commission that advice – we published it – warts and all. That’s a remarkable thing to do if you want to litigate because it means that you are telling the other side about all the weaknesses in your case. But we did it because we believed it was so important that the Met act. We wanted them to investigate without us needing to sue them. We wanted people to believe that the Met would apply the law, without fear or favour.

And still they refused to investigate. And the reasons they gave were totally remarkable. The Met said that: “Downing Street … have already stated that Covid rules were followed”. And they said that because the Cabinet Office was looking into possible breaches there was no need for the Met to investigate as well.

These are extraordinary arguments. Can you imagine an officer deciding not to investigate you because you assured him you hadn’t committed a crime? Or because you told him you had appointed a subordinate to look into the matter and so there was no need to bother? They amounted to a different set of rules for the powerful – a kind of institutional cap-doffing.

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Of course you can’t. And it felt to us at Good Law Project like something bigger and more important even than the prime minister’s possible criminality was at stake. Might the public lose all faith in the law because what they could see looked very much like a prime minister who was above it. And a police force that was too scared to act.

So on 17 January 2022 we sued the Met. We said, and publicly, that we were very confident about the outcome. Because I could not believe that a judge would not see things as we did, that the stance the Met was adopting was profoundly damaging to public trust in the law. And a week later, on 25 January, Cressida Dick U-turned and announced a criminal investigation into the Downing Street parties.

Today’s announcement that the prime minister and chancellor broke the lockdown laws – the laws they enacted and expected others to obey – is the culmination of her investigation, an investigation we sued for her to bring.

And whatever you think of this prime minister, today is an important day.

In 1733 Dr Thomas Fuller wrote: “Be you ever so high, the law is above you.” What today shows is that, almost 300 years later, his words remain true.

Jolyon Maugham is a QC specialising in tax

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