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Privileges Committee publish report setting out processes and procedures for inquiry on Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP

21 July 2022

The Committee of Privileges has publishes a report setting out in detail a number of procedures and processes that will underpin how it will investigate the matter referred to it by the House on 21 April 2022, concerning the conduct of the Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP.

The report outlines a ‘resolution on procedure’ alongside several other key documents detailing how the Committee will conduct its inquiry with fairness and transparency. The report also includes a supporting memorandum from the Committee’s legal adviser, former President of Tribunals and Appeal Court Judge Rt Hon Sir Ernest Ryder.

The key documents published with the report today include:

  • The resolution on procedure, setting out processes and procedures for the inquiry.
  • Supporting memorandum from the Committee’s legal adviser, Rt Hon Sir Ernest Ryder
  • Paper from the Clerk of the Journals on the definition of a contempt.
  • Correspondence with the Speaker of the House of Commons regarding the Recall of MPs Act 2015.

Public evidence and protecting anonymity

As well as confirming the intention to take oral evidence in public in the autumn, including from Mr Johnson, the report also confirms the Committee will protect anonymous whistle-blowers who wish to submit evidence as “some witnesses may only be willing to give evidence if their identity is not made public”.

The Committee notes there are a range of measures it can use to protect the identity of witnesses with important information, while ensuring the individual under investigation is aware of the content of the evidence and able to challenge it - if necessary - in the interests of fairness.

Recall of MPs Act

Also among the documents published today is a formal determination from Commons Speaker Rt Hon Sir Lindsay Hoyle MP, following independent legal advice, regarding the interpretation of the Recall of MPs Act 2015 in the hypothetical event that the Privileges Committee were to recommend the sanction of suspension.

The Speaker has ruled that the Committee of Privileges is a committee concerned with the standards of conduct of individual MPs, and therefore any suspension of the requisite length (ten sitting days or fourteen calendar days) following on from a report from that Committee will attract the provisions of the Recall of MPs Act. The provisions in question relate to triggering a ‘recall petition’. In the interests of transparency, the Committee has published the legal advice in full in the report.

Definition of contempt

The report also includes a paper from the Clerk of the Journals, discussing the definition of a contempt in the context of the Committee’s inquiry. The Committee agrees with the Clerk of the Journals that the focus of the House’s jurisdiction is on whether or not an action or omission obstructs or impedes or has a tendency to obstruct or impede the functioning of the House, with the consequence that, looking at contempt in broad terms, intention is not necessary for a contempt to be committed. The Clerk’s memo explains that while “much of the commentary has focussed on whether Mr Johnson “deliberately” or “knowingly” misled the Committee”, “this wording is not in the motion”. 

In her paper, the Clerk of the Journals adds: “It is for the Committee and the House to determine whether a contempt has occurred and the intention of the contemnor is not relevant to making that decision. Intent has been considered relevant when a Committee has been considering whether or not there should be penalties for a contempt, or the severity of those penalties”; her paper gives examples of previous cases in which Committees have considered intent in the course of assessing the seriousness of the behaviour concerned.      

Considering evidence

The ‘resolution of procedure’ published by the Committee confirms that when considering the allegations against Mr Johnson, the standard of proof will be “on the balance of probabilities”.

The report confirms that oral evidence submitted to the inquiry will be taken under oath, or in the case of written evidence accompanied by a statement of truth. In the interests of fairness, any witnesses giving oral evidence may be accompanied by legal representation, provided they answer questions themselves. The Committee also agreed that all responses received from witnesses will be shared in confidence with the subject of the investigation, so he has an opportunity to challenge them where necessary, though where appropriate the Committee may take steps to protect the identity of witnesses.

Image: Parliamentary copyright/Jessica Taylor