The Accountability Gap and the State of the United Kingdom

19th June 2021

Here is a challenge.

Think of a normal, day-to-day process of the United Kingdom state.

And then try to think of examples when that process has succeeded in holding the state accountable – that is against the government’s wishes.

It is not easy.

Freedom of information is impotent.

The public services ombudsman is inefficient (at best).

Debates on the floor of the house of commons – and ‘opposition days’ – provide little more than Westminster theatre.

The prime minister casually lies at the weekly set-piece of political accountability, without any sanction or shame.

Written parliamentary questions take an age to be answered – and the answers given are often useless.

Government press offices are expensive exercises in not providing any help other than to the careers of those who staff them.

The only exception is that, from time to time, a parliamentary select committee can publish a report that hits through – though this often is down to the capabilities and qualities of whichever clerks work for the committee, than to the MPs and peers which formally comprise the committee’s membership.

And so because the normal processes of the state are generally so weak that we end up with ad hoc processes such as inquires and court cases to force the state into accounting for its actions (and inactions) against its will.

Think here of the post office scandal litigation, and think of the Hillsborough and Daniel Morgan panels.

And there are other examples.

(And imagine how many examples there are where there have not been such determined campaigners dedicated in getting at the truth.)

Ad hoc exercises in practical accountability such as court cases and panel inquiries are, however, often undermined (as this blog averred yesterday) by a legal inability to force disclosure against the state’s will or interests.

And each success in forcing accountability by means of a court case or an inquiry usually has equal and opposite significance as an example of failure of the institutions of the state to have held other parts of the state properly accountable in the first place.

In particular: the failure of parliament to be an effective check on the executive.

There is a severe accountability gap in the state of the United Kingdom.

And it is from this gap so many other political problems emerge.

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Judicial review, Dominic Cummings and ‘Potemkin paper trails’ – and why courts require reasons for certain decisions

11th June 2021

In three tweets in a thread posted this week, Dominic Cummings, the former assistant to the prime minister, refers to ‘Potemkin’ paper trails and meetings.

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What does he mean?

And does he have a point?

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What he is alluding to, of course, are the ‘Potemkin’ villages, where things in bad conditions were dressed up to be in good conditions so as to mislead others.

In the context of judicial review, Cummings presumably does not mean that bad reasons would be dressed up as good reasons.

What he instead intends to mean is that there could be artificial reasons and contrived meetings the purpose of which was to make a decision judge-proof.

To a certain extent, he has a point.

In the judicial review case in question, had there been evidence of officials conducting any form of evaluation exercise then the tender award may have been harder to attack legally.

And such an exercise could, in reality, have been nothing other than going through the motions rather than anything that could have actually led to another agency actually getting this valuable contract.

But this is not the reason the courts require reasons for certain decisions – and it may not have changed the judgment in this case either.

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Judges and courts are not stupid and naive.

Judges and courts know full well reasons can be artificial and contrived.

The judges were once barristers and solicitors and, as such, they would have had considerable experience of advising clients on providing reasons for certain decisions. 

The purpose of requiring reasons for decisions – and for ministers and officials to say they are true reasons – is to make it more difficult for bad and false decisions to be made.

For example – take the decision by the government to seek a prorogation of parliament in 2019.

No minister or official – or adviser – was willing to sign a witness statement (under pain of perjury) as to the true reason for advising the Queen to prorogue parliament.

And without such a sworn (or affirmed) reason, the government lost the case.

Reasons also provide a reviewing court with a basis of assessing whether a decision was so unreasonable that no reasonable decision could have made it, and also of assessing whether relevant considerations had been included and irrelevant considerations were excluded.

Providing reasons does not provide an escape route for cynical and irrelevant and unreasonable decision-making.

But it is an impediment, and one that makes it harder for ministers and officials to get away with bad decision-making. 

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And in the recent judicial review, it is not clear to me (as a former central government procurement lawyer) that even an artificial ‘Potemkin’ exercise would have necessarily saved the decision from legal attack.

Awarding a high-value contract to cronies where a nominal (though documented)  exercise of discretion had not shown any actual objective advantage over other possible suppliers would still have been open to legal attack.

So this is not necessarily a case where the failure to provide a ‘Potemkin’ paper trail is to blame for the loss of a legal case.

The pram may well have fallen down the stairs anyway.

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Why is it so difficult to prosecute for the sale and purchase of peerages?

7th June 2021

A person is in the news because they donated £500,000 to a political party days after taking a seat in the house of lords.

This post is not about that person.

I have no idea about the circumstances of that appointment. and so I do not make any allegations in respect of those circumstances – and this is not just safe libel-speak, I genuinely do not know, and nor (I suspect) do you.

(And anyone commenting below who makes an allegation of criminality in respect of that appointment – or anyone else – will not have their comments published – this is not Twitter, you know.)

This post is instead about the legislation that is usually mentioned when such appointments are made: the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925.

It is a curious statute – not least because the offences it creates appear hardly to have ever been successfully prosecuted.

(The one early exception appears to be Maundy Gregory.)

 

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The legislation has one substantive clause that in turn creates two offences.

The first offence is (and in language itself as cumbersome as the name, title and style of any obscure peerage):

‘If any person accepts or obtains or agrees to accept or attempts to obtain from any person, for himself or for any other person, or for any purpose, any gift, money or valuable consideration as an inducement or reward for procuring or assisting or endeavouring to procure the grant of a dignity or title of honour to any person, or otherwise in connection with such a grant, he shall be guilty of a misdemeanour.’

Let’s try to make sense of this word-soup.

This first offence relates to the person who is (in effect) on the supply-side of a relevant transaction – the person ‘accepting or obtaining’ the ‘inducement or reward’.

This supplier has to be shown to (a) accept, (b) obtain, (c) agree to accept, or (d) attempt to obtain [x] in return for [y].

The [x], in turn comprises two things: (a) any gift, money or valuable consideration which also has the quality (b) of being an inducement or reward for procuring or assisting or endeavouring to procure the grant of [y].

This means proof of a ‘gift, money or valuable consideration’ is not enough: there also needs to be proof of its purpose.

The [y] is the most straightforward: ‘the grant of a dignity or title of honour to any person, or otherwise in connection with such a grant’.

What all this means is that showing there is cash and an appointment is not enough: there has to be proof of intention to the criminal standard of proof – that is (in general terms) beyond reasonable doubt.

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The second offence deals with (in effect) the demand-side:

‘If any person gives, or agrees or proposes to give, or offers to any person any gift, money or valuable consideration as an inducement or reward for procuring or assisting or endeavouring to procure the grant of a dignity or title of honour to any person, or otherwise in connection with such a grant, he shall be guilty of a misdemeanour.’

There is no need to unpack this like the first offence – but you will notice that again there is the need to prove that the ‘gift, money or valuable consideration’ is for the purpose of bing an inducement or a reward.

So, as before, showing there is cash and an appointment is not enough – there needs to be proof of intention.

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Those with good political memories will recall the ‘cash for honours’ investigation of 2006-2007.

This investigation included the extraordinary moment of a dawn-raid on the home of a government official and the questioning by the police of the then prime minister.

All very dramatic.

But nothing came of it.

No charges were brought.

The Crown Prosecution Service provided detailed, legalistic reasons for their decision not to prosecute.

The CPS averred that not only did it need to prove intention (on both sides) but also that it also had to prove that there was an agreement:

‘If one person makes an offer, etc, in the hope or expectation of being granted an honour, or in the belief that it might put him/her in a more favourable position when nominations are subsequently being considered, that does not of itself constitute an offence. Conversely, if one person grants, etc, an honour to another in recognition of (in effect, as a reward for) the fact that that other has made a gift, etc, that does not of itself constitute an offence. For a case to proceed, the prosecution must have a realistic prospect of being able to prove that the two people agreed that the gift, etc, was in exchange for an honour.’

These CPS reasons were compiled and endorsed by some very clever criminal lawyers – though the rest of us may struggle to see the absolute need for proving an agreement under the 1925 Act.

Nonetheless the CPS insisted:

‘In essence, the conduct which the 1925 Act makes criminal is the agreement, or the offer, to buy and sell dignities or titles of honour. Section 1(1) is drafted in wide terms and captures any agreement in which a seller agrees to procure a peerage in return for money or other valuable consideration. Section 1(2) is also drafted in wide terms and captures any agreement in which a buyer agrees to provide money or other valuable consideration, in order to induce a seller to procure a peerage.’

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If the CPS are correct in this interpretation and construction of the statutory offences, then this makes it hard, if not impossible, for the offence ever to be prosecuted successfully.

And, even without the CPS gloss, the requirement to show intention made the offence hard to prosecute in the first place.

There may be other laws which may apply – for example, fraud legislation – but not the one piece of legislation that actually has the sale of honours as its dedicated purpose.

For, as long as those involved make sure there is no paper-trail and that the choreography of nods-and-winks are done in the right order, there is no real danger of any prosecution under the 1925 Act.

What the 1925 Act prevents is the blatant Lloyd-George style of an open market for the sale and purchase of honours.

For a statute to only regulate (in effect) the seemliness of the trade in peerages and other titles is a very, well, British (or English) thing to do.

Otherwise, the 1925 Act is an ornament, not an instrument – and so it is as much a mere constitutional decoration as any ermine robe, and is just as much use.

*****

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Computer says ‘guilty’ – the scandals contained within the Post Office miscarriage of justice scandal

 4th June 2021

One of the successful appeal barristers in the Post Office miscarriage of justice scandal has given a powerful and important speech, which you should click on and read here.

Almost every paragraph contains devastating stuff – mistake and abuse, after mistake and abuse.

So immense a miscarriage of justice was the whole affair that it is difficult to get one’s mind around the scale of what went wrong.

I think there were three particular scandals that comprise the wider scandal – though this is not an exhaustive list.

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One scandal is the extent of what went wrong and how long it took for anything to be put right – the number of people involved and affected, and the length of time it has taken for there to be any justice.

Here it should also be noted that had it not been for exemplary judging in the civil case by Mr Justice Fraser, there may still not be anything approximating any justice in this case.

A huge, horrible system failure of the English legal system.

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A second scandal is just how many managers and lawyers in the Post Office knew that there were injustices – or did not care that there were injustices – but pressed on with the prosecutions and resisting the civil claims anyway.

Here the failure is not so much of a system but of individual professional decisions made by many who could and did know better.

The aggregate effect of all these bad decisions was immense – but each decision could and should have been different.

It is not good enough for those who made those bad decisions to hide behind any system failures – each should be held accountable for their individual decisions.

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A third scandal is the most basic of all – and is more fundamental than the failure of the legal system and the failures of managers and lawyers.

This scandal is about human credulity.

This scandal is about how mere shortfalls on a computer system were capable of being sufficient evidence in-and-of-itself for postmasters and postmistresses to be criminalised.

Computer says: guilty.

Here the scandal is not about systems or decisions – but about the nature of evidence and proof itself.

A problem of general gullibility.

As the appeal barrister Paul Marshall says in his speech:

‘One of the features of these miscarriages of justice is that, in almost all cases, the only evidence against the defendant in question was a shortfall shown in the Horizon computer system.   If you remember only one thing from this talk, bear in mind that writing on a bit of paper in evidence is only marks on a piece of paper until first, someone explains what it means and, second, if it is a statement of fact, someone proves the truth of that fact.  

‘The simplest explanation for the Post Office scandal is that documents generated by the Horizon computer system were routinely treated by lawyers and judges as though statements of fact that were true, without bothering to consider how their truth should be established.  It was taken as given that what a computer record showed was correct. The shallowness of this approach is reprehensible.’

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Even if the legal system had worked better, and even if Post Office managers and lawyers had made better decisions, there was always going to be a problem if such uncritical deference was given to computer records.

A computer should never be the one to, in effect, pronounce guilt.

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The cynical reason why the Home Office may be invoking ‘National Security’ and the “Human Rights Act’ so as to delay publishing the Independent Panel Report on Daniel Morgan

27th May 2021

There is a stand-off between the home office and the Daniel Morgan independent panel over publication of the panel’s report.

From the perspective of the Morgan family this is unfortunate – and even heart-breaking.

It is a horrible situation.

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The report will be important – whatever its content – for three reasons.

First: it will be nearest we get to a definitive account of the circumstances of the 1987 death of Daniel Morgan, the private investigator murdered in south London.

Second: it will also set out, as far as possible, how and why investigations and prosecutions kept failing, again and again – and the relevance (if any) of the relationships (corrupt or otherwise) between the metropolitan police, the press and the private investigation industry in explaining those failed investigations and prosecutions.

And third: it will be the nearest we get in practice to ‘Leveson 2’ – the general inquiry into the relationships between the metropolitan police, the press and the private investigation industry, an inquiry which has now been cancelled by the current government.

So far, the coverage of hacking and the other (so-called) ‘dark arts’ have given a lop-sided view of what happened, focusing on the press and newsroom culture – but the press was the customer in the wrongful trade in personal information at the relevant times – the ‘demand-side’.

What is still obscure is the ‘supply-side’ of what happened – especially the role of the police and the private investigators.

Even without the particular circumstances of the death of Daniel Morgan and its aftermath, it all would be an extremely complicated world to understand.

So it is no surprise that panel has spent since 2013 putting this report together.

And now the report is ready to be published.

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But.

The report has not been published.

The home office is insisting that they review the report before publication and they will not commit to a date for publication.

Under the terms of reference for the panel it is envisaged that the home secretary arrange for the report to be placed before parliament – and that would be the means by which the report would then be published and thereby enter the public domain.

The understanding is (though I am aware of different opinions) is that by placing the report before parliament that it would thereby acquire absolute privilege – which means that nobody can be sued for defamation in respect of the content of the report.

Whether or not this legal analysis is correct, it was certainly envisaged that his would be the procedure and – regardless of the legalities – it is certainly the fitting way for such an important report to be dealt with.

Not many reports are solemnly placed before the parliament by the home secretary.

And although some say the report should just be leaked, this is one report that – perhaps more than any other – should be published ‘by the book’ – as it is ultimately about the rule of law itself.

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What is the reason for the current stand-off?

We appear not to have the true reason – but we do know this because the reasons so far given do not make sense.

According to one blogpost – which I cannot vouch for as I did not write it and I have not seen the underlying evidence for its assertions – there has been a succession of home office excuses for the delay.

Whether or not there have been earlier home office excuses for the delay, the current reasons are that the home secretary needs time to review the report because of the home secretary’s responsibilities in respect of national security and under the human rights act.

Balderdash.

Codswallop.

Flapdoodle.

Utter twaddle.

These cannot be serious grounds for the following reasons.

First, the home office do not yet have a copy of the report and so cannot know in advance whether a report into the circumstances and aftermath of a murder in a south London carpark in 1987 raises any current national security and under the human rights act issues in 2021.

Second, the report has already been vetted by the metropolitan police legal department who would have been able to identify any such issues – and indeed the home secretary would presumably have to rely on the metropolitan police for this supposed review, given the report deals with police operational issues.

And third, the panel has itself ensured that it has had experienced and extensive legal advice – and have followed the usual ‘Maxwellisation’ process of ensuring what is to be published would be legally sound.

Indeed, the terms of reference envisaged that the emerging findings of the inquiry and the final report could be released directly and freely to the Morgan family, and this provision would not make sense if there was a prior formal home office review stage.

The excuses of of national security and under the human rights act are improvised and artificial excuses to justify delay – and one suspects that there is not a single person inside or outside the home office who has a sincere belief in these excuses.

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But why these two particular excuses?

At first, it seemed a puzzle.

My best charitable guess was perhaps the home office simply did not want to set a precedent for immediately publishing reports that were outside the scope of the inquiries act.

Yet that did not explain why these two particular excuses were selected.

And then it became obvious.

This is all about litigation – and about providing cover for litigation risk.

National security is one issue that the courts will invariably defer (with nods) to the home office – and if the home secretary makes an assessment then even the current president of the supreme court will say this has to be accorded ‘respect’.

And the human rights act point, a clever one, is that under article 2 of the European convention there is a ‘right to life’ which again, once invoked, means that the courts are unlikely to conduct any balancing exercise.

The combination of these two grounds mean that the home office would be able to resist any judicial review of their delay – for government lawyers would just need to say national security and the human rights act, and a court would be unlikely to intervene.

And – and this is crucial – it also works the other way round: for if the panel threatened to publish the report itself then the home office could use the same two grounds for obtaining an injunction against publication.

Indeed, one suspects that the home office lawyers are currently insisting on formal undertakings from the panel that the panel will not publish the report directly.

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If my reasoning here is correct – and I cannot think of any other plausible explanation for why the home office has invoked national security and the human rights act – then the home office and its lawyers are engaged in a cynical exercise of making the delay to be litigation-proof.

Such gaming of the judicial process is not necessarily an abuse of process – indeed civil lawyers often use such tactics and even have a big white book packed with ways by which parties can win cases other than on the actual merits of the case.

But if such tactics are legally permissible that does not make them normatively acceptable.

And in these circumstances, such tactics are nothing other than disgusting. 

There is no good reason for this delay – and the brother of Daniel Morgan should not have had to tweet this.

The independent panel report should be published without any further delay.

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The Daniel Morgan independent panel in effect tell the Home Secretary: ‘you have no authority here Priti Patel, no authority at all’

20th May 2021

Yesterday’s post was about the home secretary making an extraordinary intervention that would delay the long-awaited publication of report of the independent panel on the death of Daniel Morgan.

And then came further news that the panel were refusing to give the report to the home secretary:

This is a splendid and spirited response from the panel to what is an unconvincing attempt by the home secretary to intervene.

And alluding to that infamous parish council meeting, one wag caught it perfectly:

(Though, of course, in that other instance, the recipient of that comment was the one in the right, as this blog then explained.)

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The move by the home secretary may not only fail – it may be counter-productive.

Last week those who followed the Daniel Morgan case were wondering whether the impending publication of the independent panel report would get any press or public attention.

And then our clumsy bullying Home Secretary sought to clumsily bully the independent panel.

Well.

 

Such PR is priceless.Without her intervention, the report may have generated little interest beyond those who had an interest anyway.

Now there is far more interest.

And as someone was quoted in the news report:

“There are no national security issues involved. There are national embarrassment issues.”

If this is correct (and I have no idea) then, thanks to the home secretary, more people will now be aware of this.

Before attempting to intervene, the home secretary should have read the terms of reference of the independent panel – read them, and understood them.

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(With apologies to the great Jackie Weaver)

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That was the County Court Judgment that was – and why everyone is entitled to a civil justice system that works at the speed it worked for Boris Johnson

13th May 2021

This time yesterday Boris Johnson had a County Court Judgment (CCJ) against him that had been entered back in October 2020.

Like anyone with a contested CCJ he faced the irksome process of applying to the court to set the judgment aside and, if the claim was ill-made, striking out the claim.

The application process can take weeks or months for normal defendants in this predicament – and Johnson faced having to also explain his delay in contesting the case.

And now: it is reported that the CCJ is no more.

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That is extraordinarily fast for the civil justice system.

It would seem that it may be that an application was not even needed – and the courts set aside the claim and struck out the claim by their own motion.

The claimant has wrongly made, it seems, a defamation claim in the wrong court and in the wrong manner.

As such, the court can act without reference to the parties and end the claim there and then.

But.

For the rest of us the civil justice system is nowhere near as prompt.

Claimants and defendants can wait years for a hearing date.

Those with wrongful CCJs can suffer for months until the court gets round to hearing an application for the CCJ to be set aside.

There is nothing wrong whatsoever with the courts acting so swiftly to set aside the CCJ entered against Johnson.

What is wrong is that the rest of us do not get the benefit of civil justice at this same commendable speed.

 

The County Court Judgment against Boris Johnson – an explainer

12th May 2021

[This post now has an Addendum]

Today’s Private Eye revealed that there is a county court judgment (CCJ) against Boris Johnson.

What can be worked out from this information?

First, it appears that it is a judgment against Johnson as a private individual, as the legal claim was not made against him as prime minister – we know this as this claim process cannot be used against central government entities.

Also note that it does not matter that Johnson’s full name is not used, and that the address is ‘Number 10’ when in fact he lives at Number 11, if those were the details provided by Johnson to the claimant.

Second, the legal claim was made online – we know this because of the court name and because of the ‘MC’ used in the case reference number.

Third, it appears to be a debt claim – as the claim appears to have been for a specified amount.

[UPDATE – this third observation seems not correct – see Addendum below.]

Fourth, it appears that the CCJ is a so-called ‘default judgment’ – this is a judgment that are entered against defendants if they either do not acknowledge the claim or do not defend the claim in time.

That it is a default judgment is suggested by the claim not having been allocated to an actual county court.

On the assumption that the CCJ is for a default judgment, then there are two likely explanations.

The first explanation is that the claim was not properly or validly served – that Johnson had no idea that there was a claim against him.

The second explanation is that the claim was properly and validly served but that, for some reason, the claim was not dealt with properly.

A default judgment is not directly about the merits of a claim – it is a procedural device which has the effect of making defendants take a claim seriously.

If a claim comes in and is, say, ignored then a default judgment will be entered.

Given the sheer amount of correspondence that is received in Downing Street, it is perhaps understandable that occasionally items are missed.

That said, for an October 2020 CCJ to be revealed in May 2021 indicates that:

(a) any final demand or letter before claim was missed/ignored;  

(b) the claim form was either not served or was missed/ignored; and

(c) a copy of the CCJ was missed/ignored.

What a default judgment does not necessarily indicate is that there were insufficient funds – for a CCJ can still be headed off even when a claim form is served as long as the defendant reacts promptly.

Therefore what the CCJ speaks to is not Johnson’s impecunity (at least not directly) but to Johnson’s disorganisation.

Somehow, someway it appears that Johnson (or his office) missed or did not respond to a final demand/letter before claim, a claim form and (most strikingly) the actual judgment and court order.

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So what can Johnson do now?

He can seek to apply to the court to have the CCJ set aside.

But here he may face problems.

He can have the judgment set aside as of right if he did not actually receive the claim form.

But if the claim form was validly served then (in general terms), he can only have the judgment set aside at the discretion of a judge.

For a judge to exercise this discretion in Johnson’s favour he has (again in general terms) to show two things.

First, he would need to show that there was a defence to the claim – that he did not actually owe the money.

Second, he would also need to show that he had acted promptly – and here the calendar is against him.

Waiting until May to apply to have an October judgment set aside will not be an easy thing to explain to a judge – and one can imagine many judges being unimpressed by the delay, regardless of the merits.

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Downing Street has now provided a statement.

From this statement it can be inferred that the claim was indeed validly served – else that would be the basis for the application and not the basis given.

Instead, the statement uses standard wording which goes to the exercise of a judge’s discretion.

(One suspects that the wording of the Number 10 statement was provided by a lawyer.)

Perhaps the claim was a prank – though it can be a quite serious and potentially criminal matter to issue a false legal claim.

There seems to be off-the-record briefing to political reporters saying that the claim was not ‘genuine’ – but even if this is the case, there was still a claim form and a CCJ missed by Downing Street and/or Johnson.

The fact that the claim may not have been well-made does not take away from the evident disorganisation which meant that a claim was served on and a CCJ received by Johnson and nothing appears to have been done about it.

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It cannot be assumed that a court will set a CCJ aside even if the claim is not ‘genuine’, if there has been too much delay.

Courts are increasingly unwilling to give any relief from sanctions in civil cases – and a default judgment is a sanction for non-compliance. 

And there is, of course, a recent example of a civil court being unimpressed with a (former) government minister who did not comply with the civil procedure rules: Andrew Mitchell v News Group Newspapers Ltd.

In that case, Mitchell’s legal team did not get around to serving a costs budget in time – a delay which cost Mitchell about £500,000 – some thousand times more than this CCJ.

A court may be similarly unwilling to give Johnson a relief from this sanction.

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MORAL

Always, always deal with legal correspondence quickly – for if this can happen to the prime minister, it can happen to you.

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ADDENDUM – 13th May 2021

A report in the Daily Mail now provides detail on the claim – the piece is written by an experienced legal/courts reporter.

It appears that the claim is not for a debt – even though it is for a specific amount.

If the claim was brought on the basis and in the way described, it is likely that the court will set aside the judgment and strike out the claim.

The only problem would be delay – and although anyone who has appeared before county court judges can imagine a judge refusing such an application – delay will probably not be fatal to Johnson’s application in the reported circumstances.

 

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This illiberal Queen’s Speech is the next step for authoritarian populism after Brexit

11th May 2021

Well, that was quite the Queen’s Speech.

A legislative programme geared to make a certain sort of person grin and clap and cheer about ‘owning the libs’.

But it is not just about mere superficialities – it is in substance a multi-pronged attack our liberties.

The prime minister is not only taking back control of when there will be general elections, the government is making it harder for people to vote.

The government is also making it harder for government decisions to be challenged in court, and it is making it harder for anyone to protest about any of this.

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Of course: this is not a surprise.

Five years ago, senior members of the governing party affected to want to give effect to the ‘will of the people’.

But, as is often the case with authoritarian populists, the supposed mandate of the people was only ever a convenient rhetorical device for ever-greater central control.

And the sorry state of our politics means that the government will probably get away with this.

There may be opposition in the house of lords – and some measures may be open to legal challenge.

Yet, even with the few remaining checks and balances in out constitutional arrangements – this is what the government does as the next step after ‘taking back control’.

The impression is that Brexit was not about liberation, but about creating a political culture where the opposite of liberation – imposed authority – became more entrenched.

Our post-Brexit polity is now looking very dismal and depressing indeed.

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