Government Accused Of Hiding Taxpayers' Legal Bill Over Partygate Scandal

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Images of Boris Johnson released in the Sue Gray report investigation into Partygate (Photo: Sue Gray Report)
Images of Boris Johnson released in the Sue Gray report investigation into Partygate (Photo: Sue Gray Report)

Images of Boris Johnson released in the Sue Gray report investigation into Partygate (Photo: Sue Gray Report)

The government was today accused of hiding how much taxpayers spent on legal advice for officials accused in the partygate scandal.

The Government Legal Department - an in-house legal organisation - has refused to even confirm or deny if their lawyers advised those being investigated by the police.

They have also declined to reveal how much they spent on any advice and how many people they helped - claiming it would contravene “data protection principles”.

HuffPost UK asked questions of the department under the Freedom of Information Act.

Labour’s shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry described their response as a “pathetic attempt to hide the truth” amid a “culture of cover-ups”.

The government’s response is in stark contrast to the Metropolitan Police Service that has revealed how many people they fined and how much their investigation cost - all while managing to protect the identity of those fined.

The Met has confirmed that 83 individuals were issued with FPNs in total, including 53 issued to 35 men and 73 issued to 48 women.

A total of 28 people received between two and five referrals in the Met investigation dubbed “Operation Hillman”.

Shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry. (Photo: Jeff Overs/BBC via Press Association Images)
Shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry. (Photo: Jeff Overs/BBC via Press Association Images)

Shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry.  (Photo: Jeff Overs/BBC via Press Association Images)

But, in their FoI response the Government Legal Department said: “Confirming or denying whether GLD holds information relevant to your request would reveal whether or not the individuals had or had not received legal advice from GLD.

“Since the names of some of the individuals investigated are in the public domain, this would amount to a disclosure of personal data.”

They also claimed that providing the information would “disclose privileged information” and undermine client confidentiality.

Former barrister Thornberry told HuffPost UK: “British taxpayers have an absolute right to know how much of their money was spent providing legal advice to those involved in Downing Street’s lockdown parties, and the fact that information might embarrass the government is no justification whatsoever to withhold it.

“This pathetic attempt to hide the truth just shows that, while Boris Johnson may be going, the culture of cover-ups and deceit that sustained his disgraced leadership is alive and well across the government, and will continue whoever succeeds him.”

A photo of newspapers publishing Johnson's apology issued after senior civil servant Sue Gray's report. (Photo: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
A photo of newspapers publishing Johnson's apology issued after senior civil servant Sue Gray's report. (Photo: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

A photo of newspapers publishing Johnson's apology issued after senior civil servant Sue Gray's report. (Photo: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

FoI experts also disputed the department’s response, arguing that the information did not constitute “personal data”.

Tim Turner, from data protection consultancy 2040, said there were too many potential candidates to identify anyone out of 83 people.

He also disputed their argument about legal privilege, pointing out that HuffPost UK was not requesting details of the advice only whether it was provided.

Prime minister Johnson is one of just a handful of people who are known to have been fined.

However, Downing Street previously said the PM would not seek legal advice from the Government Legal Department.

Officials from the GLD declined to comment as they were expecting an application to review the FoI.

It comes as Johnson was told to hand over a huge number of documents including his diaries to MPs investigating whether he lied to parliament over partygate.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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