Is anyone really above the law? From The Queen to Dominic Cummings, famous faces have been reported to have broken the law, but seem to get away with it unscathed.
With the recent focus on lockdown lawbreakers here in the UK, Jennifer Schmidt-Peterson, Programme and Student Lead of the Policing Programme at The University of Law (ULaw), comments on five famous MPs and royal figures who have notably broken the law in recent times, revealing what criminal charges they could expect if they were charged.
1. Dominic Cummings
Dominic Cummings infamously flouted lockdown laws in March, driving to Durham to visit his parents for childcare needs while he and his wife suffered from Coronavirus symptoms. Cummings, then drove to Barnard Castle on his wife’s birthday, claiming it was to ‘test his eyesight’.
Under the Health Protection Regulations Act that came into force on 26th March, police are able to instruct people violating government guidelines to go home, leave an area or disperse, and were given the powers to disperse gatherings and impose fines of £60 on anyone who refuses to comply. If anyone has been fined for breaking the Coronavirus lockdown before, as Cummings did, the fine is doubled to a maximum of £960. Ultimately, Cummings didn’t face any fines and was able to keep his job as Chief Advisor.
And he’s not the only political figure who flouted lockdown laws. Neil Ferguson acted as a key government scientific advisor and admitted to breaking social distancing rules by reportedly meeting his lover at his home and thus resigned from his position. And Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, travelled from South Wales to London in March to visit his father on his birthday.
2. The Queen
It may come as a surprise, but the British head of state has broken driving laws numerous times in recent years. She has been repeatedly pictured while driving without wearing a seat belt and drives despite never passing a driving test or holding a licence. That’s because as part of the ‘royal prerogative’, The Queen can legally drive without a licence because they are given out in her name, British law states (1). She is the only person in the country who can drive legally without a licence.
As far as the seatbelt goes, you can be fined up to £500 if you don’t wear a seat belt when you’re supposed to (2), but The Queen cannot be charged for this, or any other crime, due to her sovereign immunity.
3. Prince Harry
Another member of the royal family, Prince Harry, has had his fair share of controversies in his lifetime. And there's one notable incident that could have caught Harry in extremely hot water. Harry allegedly assaulted a paparazzi photographer on two separate occasions, in 2004 and 2007, the former resulting in the photographer’s lip being cut (3).
Harry and a Clarence House spokesperson defended the occasion as self-defence, but if he had been charged for the offence, he could have expected an ABH (actual bodily harm) charge, carrying a maximum sentence of five years and or a notable criminal fine (4).
4. Boris Johnson
The current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has been surrounded by controversies for most of his political career. One of the most notable occasions was his ‘intimate’ relationship with US businesswoman, Jennifer Arcuri, when he was Mayor of London. Arcuri received thousands of pounds of public money and access to secret trade missions when Mr Johnson was Mayor, including £11,500 by the Mayor’s promotional agency, London & Partners (L&P).
However, Boris Johnson was cleared of any criminal charges in May 2020, despite evidence of his crimes and breach of the broader Nolan principles contained within the GLA 2012 Code of Conduct (5), that could have meant a criminal fine and prison time.
5. Jeremy Hunt
In 2018, it was reported that Conservative MP Jeremy Hunt breached anti-money laundering legislation by failing to declare to Companies House his 50% interest in a property firm. Because of this, he was able to buy seven luxury flats with the help of a bulk discount from Conservative Donor, Nicholas James Roach (6).
By doing so, Hunt breached the Companies Act by failing to declare to Companies House that he was a “Person with Significant Control” (PSC) within 28 days of registering the firm. According to government guidance, failure to do this is a criminal offence, facing a criminal fine and up to two years imprisonmen (7).
Commenting further, Jennifer Schmidt-Peterson added: “Famous faces break the law every day, and it’s interesting to see how some appear to be exempt from the law. In the case of the Queen and PM Boris Johnson, they are granted immunity from prosecution. Although MPs are not exactly exempt from prosecution, parliamentary privilege does come into play, which grants certain legal immunities to allow them to perform their duties without interference. It’s a very interesting topic and part of British law.”
To find out more about ULaw, please visit: https://www.law.ac.uk/
1. Information taken from Daily Express
2. According to Gov.uk
3. Information taken from Independent
4. Information taken from Inbrief
5. All information taken from The Guardian
6. All information taken from The Guardian
7. According to Gov.uk