Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
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Privileges Committee comments on legal opinion

The Committee of Privileges yesterday announced it has published comments on a legal opinion supplied by Lord Pannick KC and Jason Pobjoy.

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On 2 September the Government published an opinion by Lord Pannick and Mr Pobjoy relating to the Committee’s handling of its current inquiry into the conduct of Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP.

The Committee rejects Lord Pannick’s criticisms. It notes that it has received clear, impartial and unambiguous advice from the Clerks of the House, the Office of Speaker’s Counsel, and its own legal adviser Rt Hon Sir Ernest Ryder, former President of Tribunals in the UK and Lord Justice of Appeal.

The Committee accepts the view of its impartial legal advisers and the Clerks that Lord Pannick’s opinion is founded on a systemic misunderstanding of the parliamentary process and misplaced analogies with the criminal law.

In particular, the report rejects Lord Pannick’s view that a fair procedure requires that Mr Johnson should be able to be represented by counsel who would speak on his behalf at a hearing before the Committee and cross-examine witnesses. The Committee notes that the House’s practice has been to allow witnesses to be accompanied by legal advisers whom they may consult, and to receive legal advice throughout an inquiry. The Committee does not have discretion to allow counsel to speak in a hearing and conduct cross-examination, and it would require a decision of the House to permit this. The Committee sets out its reasons for concluding that such a change of practice would be undesirable.

The report also rejects Lord Pannick’s argument in relation to the issue of Mr Johnson’s intentions, and that the Committee’s interpretation of intent will have a chilling effect on Ministerial comments in the House – noting that the latter concern is “wholly misplaced and itself misleading.”

The report also considers and responds to each of the other issues raised in Lord Pannick’s opinion.

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