Andrew Stevenson: Carry on regardless
Solicitor advocate Andrew Stevenson, secretary of the Scottish Law Agents’ Society, comments on the ‘partygate’ scandal, which has reached its denouement.
Forty years ago this month Lord Carrington resigned as foreign secretary after Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. Although he was not personally culpable, he nonetheless shouldered the blame and left office.
Carrington chose to take responsibility. Now, by contrast, we have the shabby spectacle of both a prime minister and chancellor of the exchequer paying fines under fixed penalty notices issued following their having broken the law and both appearing to resist any further consequences.
The offences here were far greater in magnitude than driving in a bus lane or parking on a double yellow line. Instead, the law that was broken was one requiring exceptional sacrifice by the public and which imposed the most extreme curbs on civil liberties on a scope and scale not normally seen outside times of war. This follows months of evasion and prevarication in the UK Parliament where the same law was made.
In asking the public to comply with laws, particularly those that restrict basic freedoms, we need to see lawmakers possess the integrity to obey the laws they make, and to do the right thing if they are caught failing to do so. Otherwise, our citizens will wonder why they themselves should bother doing so. People resent being taken for mugs. We saw this arise when the PM’s chief adviser drove to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight. These kinds of antics undermine compliance with the law, to the detriment of us all.
To be fair to Mr Cummings, he was not issued with a fixed penalty notice. His former boss, however, has now become the first serving prime minister in history to have accepted what is in effect a fine for breaking the law, made worse by the fact that the offence was committed in Downing Street itself. This scandal hardly enhances Britain’s national reputation or standing in criticising foreign governments who apply double standards.
Respect for the law is eroded when politicians lose the trust of the public by failing to adhere to the rules that they impose on the rest of us. That erosion is exacerbated where the law breached imposes unprecedented curtailments on human rights of free movement and association and where the only consequence of such a breach seems to be a £50 penalty.