by Yuan Yi Zhu
Wednesday, 13
April 2022
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07:00

The real-world victims of Partygate

The political fallout means an amnesty for lockdown convictions won't happen
by Yuan Yi Zhu
Boris Johnson with a birthday cake during lockdown

A few days ago, a 19-year-old from Bexley was convicted of breaking the Covid lockdown last January. A Co-Op employee (a ‘key worker’ in the national unity parlance) and understandably fed up with the ‘stress and misery’ of his work, he had been found by the local constabulary in a car with three friends in the dastardly act of ‘going for a Nando’s and chilling’.

A grovelling apology (‘filled with shame and apology for my actions’) did not save him from a criminal conviction, which will blight his life’s prospects when it has barely begun.

His story will never get any airtime, unlike the latest circus in Downing Street. But it should. For more than two years, we have accepted sweeping restrictions on our fundamental freedoms with little complaint. The litany of horrors — thousands dying alone in hospitals, cancers left untreated, socially-distanced funerals, not to mention the wholesale destruction of personal contact, the very basis of human societies — barely bears repetition even now.

With sufficient hindsight, we may be one day able to say with certainty whether all of this was justified. But what cannot be justified is the capricious and cruel way lockdown was enforced in this country. Lockdown regulations were written in high Whitehallese undecipherable even for lawyers; they were enforced by police forces which often had absolutely no idea of what they were doing but who enjoyed the power trip; and breaches were prosecuted by prosecutors who similarly had no clue: at one point, every single person charged in England under the Coronavirus Act 2020 was wrongfully charged because no one understood what the law actually was.

Given the evidence of systematic miscarriage of justice and now that the pandemic has largely abated, the sensible way forward is to draw a line over this episode, to quietly offer a free pardon to all those who were convicted — many of them behind closed doors — under Covid laws, and to remit any unpaid fines. Those penalties, imposed in terrorem, have lost their raison d’être now that we no longer seek to deter people from ordinary human intercourse.

But none of that will happen, because of that stupid Downing Street birthday party cake. Having long insisted that any breach of the Covid regulations was a sign of moral degeneracy, the government cannot now reverse course without looking like self-serving hypocrites, even though through their conduct its leading members clearly knew how nonsensical their own rules were.

Meanwhile, the opposition, which spent the pandemic accusing the government of not locking down hard enough, now have at their disposal a winning electoral issue — the hypocrisy of our governors, and will naturally never give it up, despite the fact those who are hurt the most by the performative tough-on-Covid-crime stance are not Spads who can afford the fine, but the Bexley shelf-stackers who cannot.

As a result, instead of discussing the key issue — should we really be making criminals out of our neighbours, co-workers, friends, because of humans’ natural yearning to not be locked up inside? We are condemned to more political kabuki, involving endless sophistry of the ‘is a Fixed Penalty Notice is morally equivalent or not to a speeding ticket and this is clearly is or is not a crisis for the Rule of Law and but Asquith was forced to resign in the middle of war in 1916’ variety. Just like the Bourbon, we will have remembered everything and learned nothing.

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Andrea X
Andrea X
2 months ago

Amen.
Very important article to be printed and hung in every house of our political elites.

Jon Hawksley
Jon Hawksley
2 months ago

Surely Johnson’s defence that he did not think he was breaking the law opens the doors to an apology for not making the rules clearer and an amnesty for all. A bit of waffle that perhaps the lockdown should not have been so strict will get the support of his back benchers and the opposition cannot oppose the “justice” in a pardon for all. To cap it Johnson can donate his refund to charity.

Last edited 2 months ago by Jon Hawksley
Sarah Johnson
Sarah Johnson
2 months ago
Reply to  Jon Hawksley

I can only wish that would happen, but it seems very unlikely.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
2 months ago

An amnesty and a refund of all fines has to be the way, regardless of what went in Downing Street. It was very bad legislation, and if the government admits it, puts it right, apologises humbly and promise it has learned, then we should move on from it.
What can never be put right is for those people kept from the bedsides of sick or dying relatives, and from their funerals. Which is why the apology must be very profound and the promise truly meant.
Your friend from Bexley should not worry about blighting his career prospects, nobody will take such a fine seriously, it is even less than a parking ticket.

Tom Watson
Tom Watson
2 months ago

Excellent piece.

Jacqueline Walker
Jacqueline Walker
2 months ago

Absolutely agree. They are still handing out fines in Ireland too for things that were but are no longer offences. I think they should just cancel the lot and reimburse fines paid. There may even still be at least one person in jail here over not wearing a mask. Absolutely shameful.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 months ago

Oh dear, poor old Ireland. I seem to recall that a few years ago the Galway Regional Hospital refused a woman’s request for an abortion shortly into her pregnancy. As a result she died. Apparently the Ward Sister said something like “ We are a Catholic country and we certainly don’t do abortions!”.
I’ve forgotten what the outcome was, but all pretty medieval really.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 months ago

Surely now that Boris has a Criminal conviction he will be barred from entering the USA. Is that not punishment enough?
However Jon Hawksley’s (above) solution of a national amnesty sounds very equitable indeed.
After all, not long ago the rules on ‘double jeopardy’ we changed without civilisation collapsing.

Jane Morris-Jones
Jane Morris-Jones
2 months ago

I thought getting a PCN was a civil not a criminal offence thus no criminal record?

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
2 months ago

Yes I thought that, but inadvertently listening to the BBC this morning, I heard it referred to as Criminal. No doubt massive exaggeration as usual.

neil pryke
neil pryke
2 months ago

There is too much “ho ho” about Partygate, and not enough “sit down and answer the questions”.

Henry Haslam
Henry Haslam
2 months ago

This article is a very good assessment of the ‘capricious and cruel way lockdown was enforced in this country’.
One could add that there were probably countless people who got together in groups during lockdown and were never caught. Those in No 10 were only caught because they included public figures. Another example, Dominic Cummings was spotted in Barnard Castle because he was a public figure: anyone else would have got away with it. So, the ‘One law for us and another for them’ actually sometimes works the other way round to the way it’s commonly used: public figures are the ones who get caught.
Another distraction is the use of the word ‘party’. There are two things you can say about a party: who is there, and what they are doing. People gathering together constitute a covid risk. Eating and drinking do not. The party aspect is irrelevant.
So is the fact of people suffering and dying of covid. All over the world you will find people people suffering and grieving; not far away you will find other people having a good time. That’s how it is. It is unreasonable to criticise people for having a good time on the grounds that other people, somewhere, are having a hard time.
These distractions matter. There are serious issues with the leadership of the Conservative party and the country. It will require time and determination to restore our reputation for honest and honourable government. This muddled thinking about the goings on at No 10 trivialises the situation, reducing it to the level of normal political knockabout.



Aldo Maccione
Aldo Maccione
2 months ago

As the police drones say in Shanghai : “Control your soul’s desire for freedom”

Peter B
Peter B
2 months ago

I disagree.
This is misguided. The rules were clear and widely understood. Whether they were “right” or “wrong” is a different matter.
What exactly does an “amnesty” mean here ? That normally means that unpaid fines are cancelled. But it does not normally mean that existing convictions are cancelled.
There should be a very high bar for any “amnesty”, since it creates the impression that deliberate law-breaking is acceptable and may even be rewarded. For instance, both the Lib “Dems” and Boris Johnson have at times proposed an amnesty for illegal immigrants in the UK.
Those who propose amnesties usually have some underlying agenda – it is less about “justice” for the “victims” and more about disagreement with the actual law – often a law implemented through the democratic process. This then risks becoming an assault on democracy by people trying to enforce a minority position on the majority (which I suggest is the case for proposed amnesties for illegal immigration).
Finally, any such “amnesty” now would give Boris and co a free pass.

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
2 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

I have to agree. There is, however, a tendency among some that if a law displeases them, the only course of action is to break it. This is in itself the abolition of the ‘rule of law’ which is supposed to guarantee our liberties. If a law is unjust or badly-framed, one should vote for people who say they will repeal it, when the first opportunity offers itself.
I am a firm opponent for instance of specified positive ‘human rights’ being used as a basis for law-making, but would never deliberately break any current individual law framed on that basis, as it would be self-contradictory behaviour to do so. People might think this is an odd position to adopt, but it is, in fact, wholly logical.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 months ago
Reply to  Arnold Grutt

I’m a gay man, and frankly, bollocks to that! We’ve had plenty of repressive laws aimed at us in the past, and I am not going to refuse to have sex of someone my age because of homophobic legislation. That is just one example from my own experience. Some laws are repressive and unjustifiable by their nature.

Of course my position statement does raise the question of who makes that judgement. But on the other hand, you have the possibility of 51% of the population deciding that the other 49% (say) should have their liberties removed. There is no absolute answer to this problem, but one partial one is to reduce the torrent of dubious and probably ineffective legislation passed by politicians, often at the behest of either the Press or various pressure groups responding to panics about one issue or another.