I find it difficult to discern the logic or any rational explanation why there should be any substantial redaction or postponement of the Susan Gray report pending the outcome of the Met investigation, instigated on the eve of the proposed and long awaited publication of the report.
The Met investigation may well lead to the issue of Fix Penalty Notices of relatively modest amounts to certain partygoers or party organisers.
The recipients of the FPN’s will then have 28 days to pay a fine – typically £200 for partygoers (usually halved if paid within 14 days).
If any one of the partygoers or organisers does not pay the Police will then have 6 months to issue summonses for the person or persons to appear before a Magistrates’ Court.
There will then no doubt be a delay of several months until the Magistrates’ Court hearing and then a further delay pending the disposal of the trial. If found guilty the defendant may have a right of appeal, which would take up further time.
Any one of the recipients – no doubt there will be more than one – may avail themselves of their right not to pay the fine and for the matter to proceed to Court. One may confidently speculate that at least one recipient will choose this option.
The Police proceedings are therefore more than likely to take a considerable time before they are finally resolved. Moreover they will be confined to the issues of the Notices and as far as I know or imagine, there is no likelihood of a public police report. (This note is confined to the Coronavirus Regulations)
The proceedings are of a summary nature which means they can only be heard before a Magistrate (subject to any appeal), and there is no prospect of a jury trial.
It is difficult to discern therefore how the publication of Sue Gray’s report could possibly undermine justice or the fairness of any future proceedings before a Magistrate. The Magistrate will try any case on the evidence before him and there is no prospect of a fair trial being jeopardised. On the other hand it may well be that the Sue Gray Report (which I understand is in the hands of the Met) will in any event need to be disclosed to a defendant under the Court Rules relating to disclosure, and if that is contested, disclosure of the Report is a matter that the Magistrate may have to decide.
The stance being requested by the Met and seemingly taken therefore seems completely illogical. In my view it is in stark contrast to the position taken against most defendants (who pass through the door of a busy criminal practice) whose case details are regularly publicised before charge and the Attorney General very rarely – if at all – intervenes in connection with reporting even after a charge and before a jury trial.
The situation that has arisen in respect of the Sue Gray report leaves a sour taste, is unsatisfactory and appears to serve no purpose
P.S. since drafting this article I have been referred to a blog which alludes to the possibility that the Met may be considering other offences such as misconduct in a public office. I think this would be very unlikely because to constitute that offence, at the time of the alleged misconduct the individual must be acting as, not simply whilst, a public officer (so my article is in respect of the more likely allegation of breach of the Coronavirus Regulations).
It has also been mooted that the real reason for withholding disclosure is to preclude the partygoers from knowing what others partygoers may have said to Sue Gray and possibly put their heads together. To proceed on such a basis cannot be justified in the context of fixed penalty notices where there will either be no trial at all or a trial before a Magistrate, in which any allegation of concoction can be put to the defendant if there is any evidence to support such a proposition.