Let’s answer the question in the headline straight away: junior civil servants have been fined because they haven’t challenged the imposition of the penalties by the Metropolitan Police.
It is understood, but hasn’t been confirmed, that the fines relate to a leaving party for a Downing Street advisor, held on June 18, 2020.
Police have issued 20 fines, each worth £50.
According to the BBC,
One … government source said police had targeted “low-hanging fruit”, and another agreed this appeared to be the police’s approach.
Civil servants have not been provided with help for legal costs and are being advised to pay any fines they receive, while senior staff and politicians have paid for private legal advice.
A recipient can contest a fine, in which case the police will review the case to decide whether or not to withdraw the fine or take the matter to court.
And Sky News has said the investigation may have been slowed down by the need to consult the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS):
A CPS lawyer would be needed if the recipient of a fine decided to fight and take the issue to a magistrates’ court.
The CPS can ask the police to do more work, or direct them to collect more evidence until it is satisfied it could prosecute a case.
Sky News understands that the Metropolitan Police did not fully consult the CPS at the start of the investigation.
The CPS could have questions about the unusual questionnaires used to extract more information from those in government.
The implication running through both broadcasters’ interpretations of events is that senior civil servants and Conservative politicians are indeed contesting fines.
The reason for this may be the question of whether a fine represents proof of criminality.
Ministers and senior civil servants – like, for example, Boris Johnson and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case – are likely to want to do everything they can to avoid an implication that they have committed a criminal act.
With the question undetermined, it seems they are seeking to challenge any fines imposed on them.
But this means that they may face court prosecution and any conviction following such an event would certainly be for a criminal offence.
If this is the route Boris Johnson has chosen, then he is in very serious trouble indeed.