Conservative leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson MP must appear in the Crown court to face a crowdfunded prosecution over alleged misconduct in public office during the EU referendum campaign, Westminster Magistrates' Court ruled today. The court was dealing with an application for a summons against Johnson for three alleged offences.
In written reasons for her judgment in Marcus Ball v Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, District Judge Margot Coleman noted that the threshold to grant a summons is low and that she was satisfied there is prima facie evidence of an issue to be determined at trial. She rejected a submission that the prosecution was vexatious.
The case concerns allegations that, during two periods between 2016 and 2017 Johnson 'repeatedly lied and misled the British public as to the cost of EU membership, expressly stating, endorsing or inferring that the cost of EU membership was £350 million per week'. The application states that, during the earlier period, Johnson held public office as Mayor of London as well as sitting as an MP.
In his submission to the court, Johnson described the application as 'a political stunt'. It 'represents an attempt, for the first time in English legal history, to employ the criminal law to regulate the content and quality of political debate. That is self-evidently not the function of the criminal law.'
He added that 'a complaint about the way in which a political campaigner has deployed publicly-available statistics in the services of a political debate is not a proper basis for the criminal offence of misconduct in public office'.
The submission also argued that applicant would have to show a link between the conduct and the powers of the office: the essence of the common law offence is the abuse of the public office, not poor conduct by a public official.
However the judge found that the public offices held by Johnson conferred 'influence and authority'. She accepted the applicant's submission that there will seldom be a more serious misconduct allegation against an MP or Mayor 'than to lie repeatedly to the voting public on a national and international platform, in order to win your desired outcome'.
Under the judgment, Johnson will be required to attend the court for a preliminary hearing, and the case will then be sent to the Crown court for trial.
Today's ruling is the reserved judgment of a public hearing on 23 May, which followed a closed hearing to deal with the disclosure of documents. Explaining why she had turned down a request for reporting restrictions, Coleman said: 'This is an unusual and exceptional application with a considerable public interest, and because there was already a great deal of publicity in the public domain about the application being made, I believed that the principles of open justice required that the application be in open court.'