Truth and freedom

The Guardian reports:

Boris Johnson has been summoned to court to face accusations of misconduct in public office over claims that he lied by saying Britain gave £350m a week to the European Union.

This stems from a crowdfunded private prosecution.

Johnson lied and engaged in criminal conduct when he repeatedly claimed during the 2016 EU referendum campaign that the UK handed over the sum to Brussels, Westminster magistrates court was told last week by lawyers for a 29-year-old campaigner who has launched the prosecution bid.

The judge in the magistrates court has ruled that there’s enough to go to trial. There will be further hearings before a trial. By the time it goes to trial BoJo could be prime minister.

Acting for Johnson, Adrian Darbishire QC, told the court last week that the application by Ball had been brought for political purposes and was a “political stunt”.

“Its true purpose is not that it should succeed, but that it should be made at all. And made with as much public fanfare as the prosecution can engender,” he said. “The application represents an attempt, for the first time in English legal history, to employ the criminal law to regulate the content and quality of political debate. That is self-evidently not the function of the criminal law.”

However, in her ruling , the judge said she was satisfied there was a prima facie case for the allegation that there had been an abuse of the public’s trust in a holder of office.

She referred to statements provided by Ball’s team from members of the public that addressed the impact that “the apparent lie” had had on them. She also cited the contention by Lewis Power QC, counsel for Ball, that “there will seldom be a more serious misconduct allegation against a member of parliament or mayor than to lie repeatedly to the voting public on a national and international platform, in order to win your desired outcome”.

This is a recurring issue. Is lying part of free speech? Should believers in free speech be defending people’s right to lie?

Last week Facebook refused to take down a doctored video of Nancy Pelosi that made her look drunk or sick. Facebook said people should make up their own minds. But how can people “make up their own minds” about a doctored video? How can people “make up their own minds” about any lies or fakery when the whole point of lies and fakery is to convince people of an untruth?

There was no immediate reaction from Johnson but a source close to the MP said: “This prosecution is nothing less than a politically motivated attempt to reverse Brexit and crush the will of the people.”

But that just goes around the issue. What about the issue? Is it fair and legitimate free speech for a public official to tell a factual lie in aid of a desired political result?

The ruling was also criticised by fellow pro-Brexit Tories, including David Davies, who said it was “deeply sinister” that Johnson faced being “dragged” into court. He added on Twitter: “EU supporters falsely claimed that a leave vote would collapse the economy. No action being taken against them.”

Not the same thing. A mistaken prediction is not a lie. If BoJo had said “at the rate we’re going we will end up giving £350m a week to the European Union” that would not have been a lie. Predictions entail uncertainty; the claim that Britain gave £350m a week to the European Union was specific and checkable and false.

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