It really is time to uncork the Gauke. He should act swiftly and decisively to carry out his statutory duty to protect the judiciary unlike his ghastly, weak and venal predecessor, Liz Truss, who did for the Ministry of Justice what King Herod did for baby sitting.
Of course, all roads lead to deal or no deal and eventually to that Jubba the Hutt of politics, Boris Johnson. You know my views on him. I won’t repeat them. But his total contempt for the truth or anything honourable or decent has debased British politics and has desensitised a viciously divided society.
So far I don’t think that anyone has overstepped the mark in attacking the judge just yet. We cherish freedom of speech, which is also the right to be offended. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with a judge in public. It’s when they are accused of some establishment stitch up or of being biased or being collectively an enemy of the people that the rot begins to set in. As soon as people begin to believe that the judiciary is no longer independent we slide down the slippery American slope of electing them.
In fact all roads seem to lead to America. If a journalist asks a straightforward set of questions as Marr did to Farage about his reported views it becomes some sort of smear. If you really want to shut down the press just scream ‘fake news’. You will be surprised how many wise nods of agreement this elicits from people who ought to know better. So we seem to have reached that depressing point where politicians will say anything, do anything and promise anything to win. This is why I suspect that a private prosecution of Johnson for the common law offence of misbehaviour in public Office has been brought. Again, I fear that we are sliding down the slope of American politics of weaponising the courts. It a bad move. Litigation should always be a last resort particularly when you have other remedies. And the greatest remedy are the voters in an election.
I will try to set out simply what needs to be proved so that the prosecutor can make a jury sure of guilt.
That he was a public officer acting as such.
That he wilfully neglected to perform is duty and/or wilfully misconducts himself.
To such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in the office holder.
Without reasonable excuse or justification.
The courts have given us various examples.
Wilful excesses of official authority.
Malicious exercise of official authority.
Wilful neglect of a public duty.
Frauds and deceits.
And the test is a subjective one.
Let me briefly set out what the District Judge’s task was to decide.
“Is this a proper case to issue a summons?”
She gave a carefully considered written judgement which is in the public domain and said these carefully chosen words, “these are unproven allegations and I make no finding of fact.”
Whether her decision was right or wrong is a matter for a higher court. But the process was impeccably fair. Both sides were represented by competent counsel. Arguments were heard and judgement was given in open court. To suggest that she was somehow biased is ludicrous. But it is dangerously believable in some quarters. Simply because many people have been conned into believing that all areas of British institutions are in a conspiracy to thwart the ‘will of the people.’ If it is given traction than it is the beginning of the end of British democracy and a fertile ground for demagoguery.
I personally think it is a very bad idea to prosecute politicians for being untruthful. Although this has to be a matter of degree. Prosecute them for fingers in the till or even more private places if need be. But in a democracy people have the right to mount private prosecutions. What is needed is a practice direction from the Lord Chief Justice on what sort of cases can be brought. But in the meantime a gentle reminder about the independence of the judiciary is required.