Friday, 7 June 2019
Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson Case Has Been Close Over Misconduct in a Public Office.
The former foreign secretary's legal team challenged the summons for him to attend Westminster Magistrates' Court as they blocked a controversial private prosecution by campaigner Marcus Ball.
Mr Johnson's lawyers said District Judge Margot Coleman 'erred in law' when she issued the summons and argued the attempt to prosecute the Conservative leadership hopeful was the culmination of a 'politically-driven process'.
Two High Court judges today took barely five minutes to quash the district judge's decision, with the court due to have broken at 1pm but Lady Justice Rafferty instead telling the assembled lawyers and journalists: 'Don't go.'
Giving the court's decision, sitting with Mr Justice Supperstone, she said: 'We are persuaded, Mr Darbishire, so you succeed, and the relief that we grant is the quashing of the summonses.'
Adrian Darbishire QC, for Mr Johnson, had earlier said: 'The only rational conclusion which could be reached (by the district judge) was that the prosecution was politically motivated and, therefore, vexatious.'
Mr Darbishire told the court: 'This case clearly represented on the face of it - I will be neutral - a politically-originated... attempt to prosecute a senior politician using a common law offence for false statements in the course of public debate, a use to which that offence had never been put in this country or any common law jurisdiction.'
He added that the proposed private prosecution concerned 'an area of public life that has never previously been subject to the attentions of the criminal law'.
Mr Darbishire said the alleged offences relate to Mr Johnson's 'adoption and promotion of one of the central slogans' of the Vote Leave campaign.
He said: 'The claim is 'We send £350 million a week to the EU' - the interested party (Mr Ball) says that was misleading, essentially and simply because it was the gross figure when a net figure was called for. That is what it comes down to.'
'It is suggested that Mr Johnson, and presumably Mr Gove, Mr Duncan Smith and anyone else who used that message, was misleading the voters.'
Mr Darbishire submitted that the alleged offence did not constitute misconduct in public office, saying: 'Standing on the hustings is not the exercise of state power, and doing something naughty on the hustings is not capable of being an abuse of state power.'
Mr Darbishire told the court: 'It has never been the practice of the state in this country, or any other common law democracy so far as can be discovered, to engage in, or to permit, the criminal prosecution of political opponents for the expression of views, or the presentation of political arguments, in a manner which is considered to be objectionable, misleading or even plain wrong.
'No prosecution for misconduct in public office, or for any other offence, has ever come close to doing so.'
The judges were urged to quash the decision of District Judge Coleman and declare that the application for summonses 'did not disclose all elements of the offence of misconduct in public office and are vexatious'.