Dominic Cummings: Police findings spark calls for attorney general to resign after backing adviser

Lizzie Dearden
AFP

The attorney general is facing calls to resign after appearing to pre-empt the result of a police investigation into Dominic Cummings.

Suella Braverman was accused of “serious constitutional impropriety” after backing a previous Downing Street statement that said the prime minister’s chief adviser had “behaved reasonably and legally”.

On Thursday, Durham Constabulary revealed the result of an investigation that found Mr Cummings might have breached coronavirus laws with a trip to Barnard Castle.

Police said he would have been ordered home and potentially fined under the Health Protection Regulations if he was stopped on the Easter Sunday excursion, although his initial journey from London to County Durham was not considered a violation.

Officers said they would not be taking retrospective action against Mr Cummings.

While the investigation was ongoing on 23 May, Ms Braverman wrote about the case on Twitter.

“Protecting one’s family is what any good parent does,” she said. “The @10DowningStreet statement clarifies the situation and it is wholly inappropriate to politicise it.”

The tweet sparked strong criticism from a number of lawyers and legal commentators, who questioned why the attorney general appeared to back a statement claiming Mr Cummings had “behaved reasonably and legally” and “in line with coronavirus guidelines” before the investigation was completed.

Downing Street also said that “at no stage was he or his family spoken to by the police about this matter, as is being reported”. However, it was later confirmed that police spoke to his father.

Ms Braverman, who was appointed to her post by Boris Johnson in February, is the government’s chief legal adviser and oversees the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

After Durham Constabulary announced its findings, prolific legal blogger the Secret Barrister was among critics calling for her resignation.

“This, I’m afraid, is a resigning issue for Suella Braverman,” a tweet said.

“She has, through a wholesale failure to understand her role as attorney general, politicised an independent criminal inquiry, presupposing the outcome and embarrassing the CPS.”

The call was backed by numerous prominent lawyers and Scottish National Party MP Joanna Cherry QC called Ms Braverman “a disgrace”.

Labour's shadow attorney general, Lord Falconer, said: “Mr Cummings has got away with breaking the lockdown because the prime minister, with the backing of the attorney general, said he did not break the law.

“It is absolutely wrong that the prime minister and the attorney general abused their position in that way and overrode the law.”

Several media outlets reported that during a cabinet meeting on Monday, Ms Braverman told ministers that Mr Cummings had not broken coronavirus laws.

The Good Law Project group has written to the attorney general and Cabinet Office requesting information on any legal advice given by Ms Braverman on the matter, and the basis for it.

“We believe the requests made are well grounded and we intend to litigate if they are refused,” a spokesperson said.

Lord Falconer wrote to Ms Braverman on Sunday asking her to provide clarity on her position.

The Labour peer said her tweet on 23 May “made clear” that she supported Downing Street’s initial statement over clashing comments from Durham Constabulary.

Lord Falconer, a former Lord Chancellor and barrister, accused the attorney general of joining a “politically orchestrated campaign in support of Mr Cummings” and highlighted similar tweets by other ministers.

“As attorney general you have a special constitutional responsibility for the appropriate enforcement of the criminal law and are responsible for oversight of criminal prosecutions,” he wrote.

(AFP)

“It is a rigid constitutional principle the attorney general will discharge those functions free from political considerations or influence.”

Lord Falconer accused Ms Braverman of “serious constitutional impropriety” over the tweet and said it showed she was “either unaware or utterly indifferent” of her legal obligations.

He called for her to delete the tweet and affirm her independence in decision-making relating to the criminal justice system.

In a reply sent on Wednesday, Ms Braverman said that since the letter was sent Mr Cummings had “given a full account of his decisions”.

“There is of course no question of my having offered any public legal view (as you know, law officers do not publish their legal advice much less tweet about it), nor of seeking to pre-empt any formal investigation,” she added.

“The purpose of my comments, as I think would be obvious to a fair-minded observer, was simply to support the decision to clarify events.”

The letter was written before Durham Constabulary announced the result of its investigation, and Ms Braverman has not publicly commented on the findings.

Read more

Seven charts that show the true scale of the UK coronavirus outbreak

‘They can blame it for everything’: What coronavirus means for Brexit

The Americans who think that coronavirus is a hoax

Do you need a face mask and where can you buy one?

UK lockdown: Can I see my family and friends under new rules?

Has government weathered Dominic Cummings-gate?

Dominic Cummings might have broken lockdown law, police conclude

Police fined at least two people who made same journey as Cummings