Weekly Update 27 May 2022
Weekly Update 27 May 2022
This week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he took "full responsibility" for a series of parties in Downing Street that had breached COVID-19 regulations and led to him being fined by the Metropolitan police, among a total of 126 fines issued. Yet he did not resign.
The "Partygate" scandal is not only about breaches of the criminal law, which some have likened to mere "parking fines", while others have recalled the serious public health purpose of the regulations. It has also revealed Government leaders and senior civil servants frequently and flagrantly disregarded the guidance they had implored the public to follow to contain the COVID pandemic. The Bingham Centre has engaged with the complexities of governing through both law and guidance in our analysis of Government responses to the pandemic.
The large-scale violation of COVID-19 guidance was one of the central findings of Sue Gray's civil service inquiry into Partygate. Ms Gray found that "Whatever the initial intent, what took place at many of these gatherings and the way in which they developed was not in line with Covid guidance at the time." She also lamented the "failures of leadership and judgement" on the part of senior leaders that enabled this.
While the political response to Partygate has been relatively muted this week, the Archbishop of Canterbury highlighted the issues at stake when he issued a statement saying that "Standards in public life are the glue that holds us together, we need to rediscover them, and abide by them". Further inquiries are still taking place, as the House of Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges is investigating whether the Prime Minister misled the House when allegations about illicit gatherings began to emerge late last year. The Ministerial Code states that Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation.
The fall-out from the Sue Gray report is occurring as the Government is putting its legislative programme for this parliamentary session into action. In our Update this week, we discuss a Bingham Centre report on the far-reaching Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, which raises serious problems from a Rule of Law perspective. We bring you news of our latest engagement visit to schools, to promote awareness of legal careers and build students' understanding of accountability and accessibility of the law. We also share a podcast interview and transcript in which a leading European Rule of Law expert discusses the latest case law of the Court of Justice of the EU and its significance for Rule of Law enforcement.
Next week, the Update will pause as the UK observes a four-day weekend to celebrate the Queen's Platinum Jubilee. During the Queen's 70 years on the throne, the Rule of Law landscape has changed dramatically. In 1952, decolonisation was in its early stages, the European Convention on Human Rights had recently been signed, and the UK had taken significant domestic steps to expand access to justice through the provision of civil legal aid as one of the pillars of the welfare state. So much has happened on these and other fronts.
Readers are invited to register for the UCL Constitution Unit 2022 conference, on the State of the Constitution, on 22-23 June. The Bingham Centre has partnered with the Constitution Unit in organising elements of this conference, which features prominent speakers from politics, academia and civil society. Further details are available in the upcoming section at the end of this email.
You can read the whole Weekly Update here.