No.6 says McGrail and Azopardi ‘sought direct rule’ over Inquiries Act

Lawyers for former police Commissioner Ian McGrail last week called on the UK Government to withhold Royal assent from the Inquiries Act 2024, effectively seeking direct rule to prevent the change in legislation, No.6 Convent Place said in a statement on Wednesday.

No.6 said Mr McGrail’s lawyers, Charles Gomez and Adam Wagner, sought the intervention of Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron to withhold Royal assent and prevent the new Act from becoming law, “even if properly passed by the Parliament as it was on Monday”.

According to No.6, Leo Docherty, the then Minister for Europe who has since become Armed Forces Minister in a mini-reshuffle, “replied telling them that there was no reason for assent to be withheld”.

The new law was debated and passed by Government majority in Parliament in recent days and granted Royal assent by the Governor, Vice Admiral Sir David Steel, on Tuesday.

The Gibraltar Government has insisted repeatedly that the new legislation largely mirrors UK law and will “update and modernise” Gibraltar’s previous inquiries legislation, which dated back to 1888.

But it has proved intensely controversial, drawing accusations from the Opposition and from international observers that it is “an ugly and unsophisticated power grab” to strengthen the Government’s hand just days ahead of the McGrail Inquiry.

In its statement on Wednesday, the Government was also critical of Keith Azopardi, the Leader of the Opposition, who had requested a meeting with the Governor on Tuesday to set out the Opposition’s concerns about the legislation.

The meeting had originally been set for 10am on Tuesday but was rescheduled by the Governor to 4pm, by which time Royal assent had been granted to the new law.

“It seems to me strange that in the meantime, and while the meeting was in the diary, assent has been given before the courtesy of hearing us out on the issue,” Mr Azopardi told GBC as he left the meeting on Tuesday.

“But look, I was never going to have an assent conversation because that is a matter for the Governor within his constitutional powers.”

“All that I was seeking with my colleagues [Roy Clinton and Damon Bossino] is to point out that we think that this is a platform for abuse, that this has been launched and legislated for one specific purpose only, and to point out the defects in this governance process.”

For No.6, however, the meeting was an attempt to challenge Parliament’s decision.

“The meeting, no doubt agreed to by His Excellency out of his innate sense of unimpeachable professional courtesy, in effect sought the establishment of a new stage in the process of legislation in which the Opposition was seeking to overturn the will of the democratically elected Parliament,” No.6 said in the statement.

And it added: “The seriousness of these developments in the context of Gibraltar’s Constitutional democracy cannot be understated.”

“The Leader of the Opposition and lawyers representing Mr McGrail have, in effect, sought direct rule from London, from the Governor here and directly from the Foreign Secretary.”

“This is a scandalous development that reflects the exaggerated way in which the Government’s passing of this legislation, which simply made Gibraltar law identical in every substantive respect to UK law, has been pursued by the Opposition and Mr McGrail’s lawyers.”

In the statement, No.6 also expressed concern that Mr McGrail’s lawyers had “published and influenced the publication of highly prejudicial, anti-Gibraltar articles” in UK and international newspapers and journals.

One article had “scandalously” sought to link the Government to organised crime, No.6 said.

“This is untrue and highly defamatory as well as being a serious disservice to Gibraltar and its Government and its people, who do not deserve to be vilified in this way as a result of a legal disagreement,” it added in the statement.

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said: “For the Leader of the Opposition to have sought direct rule simply because His Majesty’s duly democratically elected Government of Gibraltar is making Gibraltar law identical to UK law and applying it to the Inquiry on foot, is an astonishing demonstration that Keith Azopardi and his GSD colleagues will stop at nothing in trying to overturn the result of the election in pursuit of their raw, naked ambition for power at any cost.”

“This is being seen in the expressions that they are using in the presentation of their views which are designed to dehumanise me and to rouse public opinion against me in a violent fashion.”

“Already there are manifestations of this on social media from obviously-linked and coordinated anonymous accounts that stoop to insulting and rabble rousing against me personally.”

“Ian McGrail has clearly also asked his legal team to do anything they can to bring down the reputation of the Government of Gibraltar and me personally, even if it is at the cost of doing massive damage to the reputation of Gibraltar and linking me and the Government to organised crime and the worst of most heinous actions simply because we have made the law of Gibraltar like the law of the United Kingdom on inquiries.”

“This approach is a demonstration that there is no care for Gibraltar or its reputation in the tactics being pursued by Mr Azopardi, in his ambition to become Chief Minister at any cost, and Mr McGrail in his ambition to hide the fact that he lied to me and the then Governor and as a direct result lost our confidence.”

“That is the reality of what is being played out here and why I am being made subject to such vilification in my attempts to protect Gibraltar and its people in everything I do and in everything I have done in the past twelve years I have been Chief Minister and will do in the years I have been elected to remain in this post.”

The McGrail Inquiry is tasked with probing the reasons and circumstances leading to the controversial early retirement in June 2020 of former police Commissioner Ian McGrail, after a 36-year career and halfway through his term in the top post at the Royal Gibraltar Police.

In preliminary hearings, Mr McGrail’s lawyers have alleged “misconduct and corruption” at the highest levels of government, insisting Mr McGrail, who denies lying to the Chief Minister and interim Governor, was “muscled out” after being placed under huge pressure over the conduct of a live criminal investigation.

Those allegations were “denied and roundly rejected” by lawyers for the Government parties, who said Mr McGrail retired because he knew he had lost the confidence not just of the Chief Minister but, crucially, of the then Governor, who was the only person with the power to ask him to resign.


Last night, Mr Azopardi described the Government’s suggestion that he had “in any shape or form” sought direct rule as “complete and utter nonsense”.

He accused the Chief Minister of using a “classic misinformation tactic” by “inventing” things the Leader of the Opposition had not said and misrepresenting matters “because his back is against the wall”.

“This is all to cover up from what he has already done and what he is contemplating doing using this new law,” Mr Azopardi said.

“He’s got to distract from all that somehow and this is utter desperation.”

“I was very careful when engaging with the Governor of not crossing constitutional boundaries or taking any steps that I deemed colonial.”

Mr Azopardi said the GSD met with the Governor to offer its “candid views” on the legislation, as Mr Picardo had “presumably” done when he consulted the Governor.

“Is it alright for him to speak to the Governor but not for us to do so?” he said.

“Whether the Governor assented or not was a matter for him within his powers.”

“We did not go there to persuade him or seek direct rule from the UK.”

“The problem here is that Mr Picardo is so desperate to distract that he is now willing to say anything about the GSD.”

“I have made clear always in the steps we have taken that we consider this Act a constitutional outrage and assault on governance.”

“The remedy is for the people of Gibraltar to get rid of this Government and speak through the ballot box whenever they next have a chance to do so.”

There was also an immediate reaction from Mr Gomez, one of Mr McGrail’s lawyers.

“The Chief Minister fails to understand the Constitutional arrangement in Gibraltar which places the responsibility of preserving the peace and good governance of Gibraltar on His Majesty's government in London,” Mr Gomez said.

“We deprecate the notion of an imagined cosy relationship between the local government and London which can interfere with a citizen's right to defend himself against the behaviour that we have seen emanating from the local government these past few weeks.”

“The rule of law trumps personal and professional or sectarian interest.”

“We shall continue to promote Mr McGrail's interests fairly and proportionately.”

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