Government Accused Of Hiding Taxpayers’ Legal Bill Over Partygate Scandal

The government was accused today of concealing how much taxpayers spent on legal advice to officials charged in the Partygate scandal.

The government’s legal department – an in-house legal organization – has refused to even confirm or deny whether its lawyers have advised those under investigation by the police.

They have also refused to disclose how much they have spent on advice and how many people they have helped – claiming it would violate “privacy principles”.

HuffPost UK fielded questions from the department about the Freedom of Information Act.

Emily Thornberry, Labor shadow prosecutor, described her response as a “pathetic attempt to hide the truth” amid a “culture of cover-up”.

The government’s response is in stark contrast to the Metropolitan Police Service, which has disclosed how many people they have fined and how much their investigations have cost – while protecting the identities of those fined.

The Met has confirmed that a total of 83 people were issued FPNs, including 53 to 35 men and 73 to 48 women.

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

Shadow prosecutor Emily Thornberry.
Shadow prosecutor Emily Thornberry.

Jeff Overs/BBC via Press Association Images

However, in its FoI response, the Government Legal Department said: “Confirming or denying whether GLD contains information relevant to your request would show whether or not the individuals received legal advice from GLD.

“Because the names of some of the individuals examined are publicly available, this would amount to disclosure of personal data.”

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

Former barrister Thornberry told HuffPost UK: “British taxpayers have an absolute right to know how much of their money has been spent on legal advice to people involved in the Downing Street lockdown parties and the fact that Information that might embarrass government is no justification for withholding it.

“This pathetic attempt to hide the truth only goes to show that while Boris Johnson may go, the culture of cover-up and deceit that perpetuated his disgraced leadership is alive and well throughout Government and will continue to exist, whoever always follow him.”

A photo of newspapers publishing Johnson's apology was released after Chief Officer Sue Gray's report.
A photo of newspapers publishing Johnson’s apology was released after Chief Officer Sue Gray’s report.

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

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

Tim Turner of privacy consultancy 2040 said there were too many potential candidates to identify any one out of 83 people.

He also disputed their arguments regarding legal privilege, pointing out that HuffPost UK did not seek details of the advice, only whether it was provided.

Prime Minister Johnson is one of only a handful of people known to have been fined.

However, Downing Street previously said the Prime Minister would not seek legal advice from the government’s legal department.

GLD officials declined to comment as they awaited a request for a review of the FoI.

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