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We have watched with growing disbelief the justifications offered by Downing Street, various Cabinet members and latterly Dominic Cummings himself of his recent actions in travelling with his family to, and around, Durham during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Many of these matters are properly adjudicable within the political rather than the legal domain. However, we are concerned by the actions of the Attorney General, Suella Braverman, in tendering what is said to be legal advice in political support of the Prime Minister’s special adviser.
The office of Attorney General is broad-ranging, involving, amongst other responsibilities, the provision of independent legal advice to the Government and the superintendence of the prosecution services in England and Wales. Underpinning all of these roles is a constitutional duty to uphold and promote the rule of law. And integral to this, of course, is the principle that these duties will be discharged without political considerations or influence.
We find it hard to see how the Attorney General’s actions in relation to the Cummings’ debacle have been consistent with these obligations. According to the Daily Telegraph, she advised Cabinet that “no laws have been broken” and said that the Cabinet should back Cummings. We do not understand how she could properly have given that advice. We are also concerned about what effect, as the superintendent of the CPS, and the person who appoints the Director of Public Prosecutions, this politicisation of her role might have.
To this end, we have written to the Attorney General and the Cabinet Office to request information about the advice reportedly given to the Cabinet by the Attorney General in relation to this matter. We believe the requests made are well grounded and we intend to litigate if they are refused. You can read our letter to the Attorney General here and the one to the Cabinet Office, here.
It is fair to say that there has always been a natural, perhaps inevitable, tension in the role of Attorney General, combining as it does the duties described above with the political duties of being a member of the Government. But an Attorney General who can be whipped into providing politically expedient legal advice undermines both the Government and the rule of law, and is a most worrying sign of the health of our democracy.
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