The Metropolitan Police have been accused of “double standards” after saying they would await the outcome of a government inquiry before deciding whether to investigate breaches of Covid laws at Downing Street parties.
Scotland Yard pointed out that any police inquiry would depend on evidence found in the Cabinet inquiry led by Sue Gray, adding: “If the inquiry identifies evidence of conduct that may constitute a criminal offence, it will forwarded to the Met for further consideration.”
Some lawyers and police commentators have described the approach as saying there is one rule for those in power and another for everyone else.
Raj Chada, the head of criminal defense at Hodge Jones and Allen, told the PA news agency: “The Met seems to say that there is a rule for politicians and a rule for others.
“The idea that we just wait and see what happens is unheard of in criminal investigations because it means evidence can disappear.
“The Met has a double standard in this regard. They broke up Sarah Everard’s vigil quite rudely, citing Covid regulations as the reason.
“The Met is designed to be fully independent and ensure that the law applies to everyone, regardless of their status. And it just doesn’t feel like it does it?”
Human rights lawyer Kirsty Brimelow, who has defended cases of Covid violations and is vice chair of the Criminal Bar Association, said police “obviously” don’t have to wait for an internal investigation “when they already have evidence and can easily glean more evidence”. .
While the force’s policy of not retrospectively investigating breaches of Covid laws may be “best practice”, she said there is a “greater sense of responsibility and accountability” as it affects a government imposing the laws on the public.
She added: “If there is unequal application of the law depending on status, it is bad for a functioning rule of law. This is bad for democracy.”
The Good Law Project, which has alerted the Met that it will take legal action if police fail to investigate Downing Street parties, warned the approach could damage public confidence in the justice system.
A spokesman for the project said: “We clearly think it looks like there’s a rule for those in power and a rule for everyone else. And we think it’s intolerable – operating a separate criminal justice system that’s softer on those in power or influential and tougher on those without.
“We are very concerned about the extent of the damage this is doing to public confidence in the rule of law.”
Describing the situation as a “gross injustice” Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said The Met had fined “thousands” for “minor Covid violations”, adding it was “incredible” that the ” Most Monitored Buildings”. parties thrown in the country,” and yet the Met is “waiting for the people in the same building to make a report before deciding whether to investigate.”
“It is understandable why the British public feels that the powerful play by different rules. The very people who made the most restrictive laws in Britain’s peacetime seem to have flouted them repeatedly, right under the nose of the police,” she said.
Jun Pang, Liberty’s policy and campaigns officer, said The Met had “serious questions to answer” about its approach, while Norman L. Reimer, executive director of Fair Trials, said, “We cannot have a justice system where people in power can lift the ban with impunity, while others face prosecution and fines.”
But Nick Aldworth, a former chief superintendent of the Metropolitan Police and national counter-terrorism coordinator, told the PA a fundamental principle of the police force is that the armed forces are “operationally independent of the government” and warned that the force is investigating the allegations investigating violations retrospectively, it would be “absolutely right” for it to then also deal with any further reports.
While saying the Met shouldn’t be drawn into politics, he warned, “No one is exempt from the law, and if officers believed crimes were being committed at that point, they should have reported them,” describing the incidents as expression of “an appalling culture across the ruling classes.”
Mr Chada added: “Downing Street is the most heavily patrolled street in the country so officers must have known what was going on. And why didn’t they act then? At least they are now potential eyewitnesses to what happened.”
Some also questioned whether the incidents could be examples of misconduct or misconduct in public office or dereliction of duty.
The Met’s policy on investigating violations of the Covid law, first released in spring 2020, says that if it received reports, it would “focus on those who are active or ongoing where policing action may facilitate a change in behavior that could cause a current… poses a risk to public health”.