A private prosecution may be brought against Boris Johnson MP in the New Year for misconduct in public office. This coincidentally comes hot on the heels of our Twitter Poll in which we asked whether it should be compulsory for politicians to take annual lie detector tests. 83% of participants voted that they should.
The person bringing the case is Marcus Ball who has crowdfunded the action. The basis of the case is that the official Vote Leave campaign bus message which stated that Britain sends the EU £350 million per week is a lie.
With the support of a criminal prosecution team of lawyers, and £300,000 in funds from the crowdfund, Ball intends to present the case to magistrates early in 2019. It will then fall to the magistrates to decide if the case is viable.
Allegation and legal team
The allegation is that the message on the bus, which was heavily promoted by Boris Johnson during the Leave campaign, was false, and known to be false. It was used, allegedly to influence voters.
It has taken Ball 2 years to raise the funds and prepare the case. Bankside Commercial, a south east London firm of solicitors are acting for Ball in the prosecution. 3 barristers, including Lewis Power QC from Church Court Chambers in east London will be handling the matter.
Ball denies that his action is an attempt to thwart Brexit. He asserts that the case is purely about stopping lies being told by politicians.
Should magistrates decide that the case can progress, Ball will need more crowdfunding.
Misconduct in Public Office
Also referred to as malfeasance, misconduct in public office is an offence under 13th century common law. There is no statute that defines it making it somewhat ambiguous. The offence has been widely criticised by the Court of Appeal, the media, legal academics and the Government.
As it stands misconduct in public office requires that the office holder:
Wilfully neglects to perform his or her duty and/or wilfully misconducts him or herself resulting in an abuse of the public’s trust without reasonable excuse or justification.
The offence carries a maximum term of life imprisonment.
The Law Commission is currently seeking reform of the offence.
Lie Detector Test UK opinion
For this case to succeed we imagine that the legal team would have to prove in some way that people were influenced by the message on the bus. Since 17.4 million people voted to leave the European Union when the referendum took place, this may be quite difficult.
However, we applaud any attempt to stop politicians telling lies, no matter the reason they may tell them.