Not Today: Case over Boris Johnson’s Alleged Misconduct During the Brexit Campaign Thrown out by the High Court
June 13, 2019
3 min read
What's going on here?
Following District Judge Margot Coleman’s ruling that Boris Johnson will have to appear in the Crown Court over allegations of misconduct in public office during the EU referendum campaign, the High Court threw out the case considering it.
What does this mean?
Marcus Ball, 29, is leading a private prosecution case against MP and former foreign secretary Boris Johnson with support from a crowdfunding page that has raised nearly £350,000. Mr Ball is arguing that Mr Johnson lied about a widely used statistic during the 2016 EU referendum campaign that the UK “sent” the EU £350 million per week. He has also made three allegations of misconduct in public office against Mr Johnson between 21st February and 23rd June 2016 and between 18th April and 3rd May. In response, Mr Johnson has launched an appeal against his summons to court, leading Mr Ball to call for further public support as a review will be “a particularly expensive part of legal procedure”. Mr Johnson has labelled the crowdfunded prosecution a “political stunt”.Recently it became clear that the High Court agrees as it threw out the claim on the basis that it was a “vexatious prosecution”, whilst Mr Ball maintained the matter was “not over”.
Misconduct in public office is when someone in “public office” willfully neglects his or her duty to the extent that it constitutes an “abuse of public trust”. Both the definitions of “public office” and what constitutes an “abuse of public trust” are legally vague and thus would have been key in deciding this case for which the maximum penalty, if found guilty, is life imprisonment. Judge Margot Coleman established that there was prima facie evidence (meaning that it is accepted as correct until proven otherwise) and did not consider the case vexatious (legal action that is brought solely to harass another). But the High Court thought otherwise and overturned the District Judge’s decision.
What's the big picture effect?
The anxious wait to see whether Mr Ball’s ground-breaking claim is successful did not last long. The District Judge’s decision to send the case to the Crown court was highly controversial in the first place. If the prosecution had been successful, it would mean that politicians could be legally liable for every statistic that they reference. Many had even speculated whether Max Hill, QC and Director of Public Prosecutions, who has the power to stop or take over a case, would step in before Boris Johnson attended a preliminary hearing.
Those in favour of the High Court ruling argue that this should not be for criminal law to dictate, but for the press to debate and for voters to decide on. For Mr Ball, if the press and all other mechanisms fail to protect a credible political debate then the law must step in. Hence critics either considered the case a threat to open political debate or essential to having a free and trustworthy democracy.
Following Mr Johnson’s summons to court, Mr Ball – a self-professed Remainer – has been accused of attempting to overturn the EU referendum and upset Boris Johnson’s bid to win the Conservative leadership election. Mr Ball defends that his “primary objective has always been to stop lying in politics” and that he has worked for “far less than the minimum wage” for two years alongside his legal team including solicitors from Bankside Commercial and barristers from Church Court Chambers.
Whilst Mr Ball underlined that he will continue working on the case, the case has undoubtedly reinforced Mr Johnson’s position. His credibility in the Tory leadership campaign as someone who will defend the will of the people has been reinforced, whilst focus on his willingness to deceive has been subdued for now.
Report written by Will H
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