Decision To Suspend Parliament Was ‘Unlawful’: UK Supreme Court

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Senior judge Brenda Hale reads the ruling that the suspension of Parliament was illegal | Photo: AP

LONDON – In a major setback for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Britain’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled in a historic verdict that his decision to suspend Parliament in the run-up to Brexit was “unlawful”.

Johnson suspended, or prorogued, Parliament for five weeks earlier this month, saying it was to allow for a Queen’s Speech to outline policies of his new government.

However, Opposition MPs and many members of his own Conservative Party had accused him of trying to escape parliamentary scrutiny during a crunch phase ahead of the October 31 Brexit deadline.

Indian-origin anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller had challenged his decision in the UK High Court, which had referred it to the highest court of the country.

“The decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue parliament was unlawful,” Supreme Court President Lady Brenda Hale said, as she handed down the verdict on Tuesday.

“The effect on the fundamentals of our democracy was extreme,” she said.

“On 27th or 28th August, in a telephone call, he formally advised Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament between those dates. On 28th August, Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the Privy Council, Mr Mark Harper, chief whip, and Baroness Evans of Bowes Park, Leader of the House of Lords, attended a meeting of the Privy Council held by the Queen at Balmoral Castle. An Order in Council was made that Parliament be prorogued between those dates and that the Lord Chancellor prepare and issue a commission for proroguing Parliament accordingly. A Cabinet meeting was held by conference call shortly after that in order to bring the rest of the Cabinet “up to speed” on the decisions which had been taken. That same day, the decision was made public and the Prime Minister sent a letter to all Members of Parliament explaining it. As soon as the decision was announced, Mrs Miller began the English proceedings challenging its lawfulness,” reads the original summary from the UK Supreme Court.

“The first question is whether the lawfulness of the Prime Minister’s advice to Her Majesty is justiciable. This Court holds that it is. The courts have exercised a supervisory jurisdiction over the lawfulness of acts of the Government for centuries. As long ago as 1611, the court held that “the King [who was then the government] hath no prerogative but that which the law of the land allows him”. However, in considering prerogative powers, it is necessary to distinguish between two different questions. The first is whether a prerogative power exists and if so its extent. The second is whether the exercise of that power, within its limits, is open to legal challenge. This second question may depend upon what the power is all about: some powers are not amenable to judicial review while others are. However, there is no doubt that the courts have jurisdiction to decide upon the existence and limits of a prerogative power. All the parties to this case accept that. This Court has concluded that this case is about the limits of the power to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament. She said the unanmous decision of the 11 justices was that Parliament had not been prorogued  the decision was null and of no effect  and it was for the Speakers of the Commons and Lords to decide what to do next. It marks a major setback for Johnson, who is currently in the US for the United Nations General Assembly. He had insisted that courts should not intervene in such political matters,” the summary further reads.

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