Top human rights barrister: Met’s refusal to probe Downing Street
Human rights barrister and New North London synagogue regular Adam Wagner has called the Metropolitan Police’s refusal to investigate Covid rule-breaking parties at Downing Street as “unlawful”.
The Good Law Project, which threatened the Met with legal action, commissioned legal advice by Wagner and policing barrister Danny Friedman to provide expert opinion on the policy of the police force not to investigate “retrospective” rule breaches.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has faced calls to resign after a series of Whitehall parties were revealed to have happened while the rest of the country were under lockdown rules.
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After weeks of revelations about alleged parties at Number 10, the Met had insisted that they do not investigate of breaches of Covid virus regulations “when they are reported long after they are said to have taken place”.
Wagner and Friedman’s expert view was that a policy of not investigating retrospective breaches is likely to be unlawful – and that a failure to publish the policy is likely to be unlawful.
The pair also said the decision not to investigate based on an absence of evidence is also arguably unlawful.
Legal advice now given by Wagner and Friedman had said there may be “a public interest in not investigating all retrospective breaches of coronavirus regulations”, given the rules are aimed at stopping the spread of Covid.
“Arguably, once a particular outbreak has been controlled, it would be (for example) an unnecessary use of police resources to investigate thousands of minor breaches of the regulations,” the advice says, adding where commercial premises had brazenly flouted rules, a “different view might be reached” on launching a probe.
But it goes on to say “a policy which entirely prevented investigations of ‘retrospective’ Covid regulations breaches is highly likely to be unlawful” as it would cripple cops’ ability to enforce rules.
It concludes: “The police have been granted this discretion by Parliament and the Secretary of State and have a public law duty not to fetter it, without consideration of individual circumstances.”
On Tuesday evening it emerged that The Metropolitan Police has referred itself to the misconduct watchdog over allegations officers failed to step in and shut down ‘lockdown-breaching’ parties in and around Downing Street.
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb wrote to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) to raise concerns over the reported event on December 18 2020 and the lack of an investigation.
Acting Detective Chief Superintendent Tony O’Sullivan, directorate of professional standards, told the Green Party peer in a letter: “I have referred your complaint to the Independent Office for Police Conduct given that you effectively allege misconduct in public office by MPS police officers.
“The IOPC will now make a determination as to whether the complaint needs to be investigated and if so, how.’
An IOPC spokesperson said: ‘We can confirm that, on Friday December 17, we received a referral from the Metropolitan Police Service of a complaint about an alleged party at Downing Street in December 2020.
“We are assessing it to determine what, if any, further action may be required from us.”