Inquiry into whether Boris Johnson misled MPs over Partygate is 'fundamentally flawed' – top barrister

A parliamentary inquiry into whether Boris Johnson misled MPs with his Partygate denials is “unfair” and “fundamentally flawed”, a barrister has said in a legal opinion

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Lord Pannick’s Government-commissioned legal advice states that “the Privileges Committee has failed to understand that to prove contempt against Mr Johnson, it is necessary to establish that he intended to mislead the House”.

The lawyer warns that “the threat of contempt proceedings for unintentional mistakes would have a seriously chilling effect on all members”.

The peer continued to say a court would declare the Committee’s approach to the inquiry as “unlawful”.

Boris Johnson in the House of Commons
Boris Johnson in the House of Commons
Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaving Downing Street
Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaving Downing Street

In a Government-commissioned legal opinion, he said: “We advise Mr Johnson that the Committee is proposing to proceed by reference to substantive errors as to the ingredients of contempt and the standard of proof required, and is proposing to adopt an unfair procedure.

“But for Parliamentary privilege, a court hearing a judicial review application brought by Mr Johnson would declare the Committee’s Report to be unlawful.”

Labour MP Chris Bryant, who chairs the Committee but has recused himself from the Partygate inquiry, dismissed Lord Pannick's assessment as “disgraceful bullying”.

He wrote in a series of tweets: "You would have thought that Boris Johnson would want to clear his name in front of the Privileges Committee instead of trying to intimidate it.

“There is no danger of ministers being cowed by this inquiry – although of course it would be good if they were careful that what they say to Parliament is true and accurate – as the House will always recognise an honest mistake quickly corrected…

“It’s time this disgraceful bullying stopped. Let’s hear and see the evidence. If Johnson has a good case to make, he’ll be vindicated. If not, he should take his punishment."

Mr Bryant also accused the barrister of wanting to “change the ancient principle that a Member of either House defends their conduct before their colleagues in person, not via a lawyer”.