Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I come not to praise Boris Johnson nor to bury him.

Neither is it our business here to decide whether his are capital crimes to be chewed, swallowed and digested or little faults to be winked at.

That is the business of another court and not just the one presided over by the oft-invoked Sue Gray whose jurisdiction runs up to and including donning the black cap.  

No, I speak here of the court of public opinion. And, again, it is for others to decide whether that court comprises nothing more than “the mutable and rank scented many” or is an august body imbued with the wisdom of crowds and ultimate arbiter of the continued existence of any of our national institutions from prime ministers to princes and all between.

The truth, it might be decided, lies somewhere middling but its judgement will come at the ballot box or at the marketplace, in its continued respect or otherwise for the people and organisations who presume prominent positions in the life of this nation and to assume authority or influence over its citizens.

Nor, as has become vogueish among leading counsel in prominent matters of law, is it for me to direct you as to what might constitute “the right side of history”. History is but the beginning of the battle and its judgements rarely evade the great court of appeal that is the future. It is not a legal consideration, nor should it be seen as one.

I urge you then in your considerations to overlook the question of the guilt or innocence of Boris Johnson in the matter of “Partygate”, nor to be swayed by the screeds of coverage to be read, watched or heard about him in the media of communications.

For it is they we are here to judge. As fit and proper persons both individually and institutionally, as showing due regard to the demands of professional imperatives such as news values, detachment and the responsible reflection of national concern and mood.

I have spoken of the court of public opinion and in that court there are few more prominent advocates than journalists. Theirs is a unique position demanding as it does within the pages of the same newspaper, news bulletin or broadcast package some acknowledgement of the case for both defence and prosecution howsoever unbalanced, elliptical, selective or emphasised either case might be.

It is not the job of journalists outside the particular case of the BBC – funded as it is by the public and governed as it is by Royal Charter – to be “fair”. Their job is to hold to account and to do so often in the face of the implacable hostility of those to whom accountability is a selective responsibility engaged with only when convenient, self-serving or inescapable.

As elected Prime Minister of this country, few are more bound to be answerable to the Fourth Estate than the resident of Number 10, Downing Street. For him – or, more pointedly, for his supporters – to complain of the former journalist’s treatment at the hands of journalists is, an American jurist recently put it, “not a dog that’s going to hunt”.

Younger members of the court will forgive me quoting Enoch Powell for emphasis: “Politicians who complain about the media are like sailors who complain about the sea.”

One might turn more pertinently to the nature of that media and ask whether individuals such as Beth Rigby of Sky News are best placed to quiz and analyse the Prime Minister on the issue of breaking lockdown when they themselves have been suspended from their jobs for similar indiscretions.

It would be fair to ask whether holding to account demands the moral authority so to do.

One might equally question the motivations of – among many media institutions – the BBC, whose misunderstanding of the non-metropolitan mood led them both to miscall Brexit and the likely nature of a Boris Johnson victory at a general election. A legacy which haunts them still and defines fraught relations with a government actively questioning the future of the license fee that funds it.

To those considerations one might fairly ask why so many among the media are willing now to believe a former adviser sacked by the Prime Minister in the aftermath of his own questionable behaviour during lockdown.

One might question why a man deemed at the time to be at best evasive in his own defence, a man at the heart of a controversial critical monologue by BBC journalist Emily Maitliss and for which she was reprimanded, is now seen as a reliable witness for the prosecution.

It is reasonable to contemplate why a man “turns Queen’s”.

The jury might also wish to ponder whether the role of the media is to lead or reflect the public mood. There may be some ambiguity in the answer but no less an ambiguity in that mood. Dividing as it does between the genuinely outraged, the distressed whose feeling at the loss of relatives they were unable to mourn should in no way be diminished, and those who neither care about parties nor the minutiae in no small part because they were attending their own.

It is fair to think too on whether the interests of Westminster journalists in the matter of cake or no cake, work or non-work reflect the concerns or considerations of the nation at large.

Those among us who turn to the polls for guidance should ask ourselves whether pollsters have in recent times proven more accurate than boneshakers in their predictions. In the twin matters of Brexit and the last general election their record is not strong and the lesson that what people tell pollsters and what they do in the ballot box seems largely unlearnt. Their status as “expert witnesses” should be scrutinised.

Similarly, one should take little succour from social media. It is notable that those who saw Brexit and its prime architect as rendering Britain laughable in the eyes of the world now ignore the headshaking disbelief of the world’s media at what looks a very British scandal.

This is a country rightly proud of a rambunctious, aggressive media that is not easily cowed by its political masters. Whether that occasionally leads it into bouts of obsession which do not compare well with the staid seriousness of European or American counterparts is for the jury to take into account or otherwise.

Jurors should, however, draw what conclusions it may from American media’s role in cheerleading alternative leaderships no matter how dire the current incumbent might appear. There is a law of unintended consequences as they now discover at presidential press conferences.

Finally, it is for the jury to decide whether partying in the Number 10 garden should merit greater time, consideration and coverage than an imminent European war in Ukraine. It is said that the decision to go to war in Crimea in 1854 was taken by a Cabinet of which the majority were asleep on a warm summer’s evening. The parallels need not be laboured but charging up the wrong valley to catastrophic effect featured strongly.

On the matter of the Crown against the media, I offer no direction as to a verdict. Unusually for our times, it is for you to decide.