Brexit: Judge rejects parliament shutdown legal challenge

Lord Doherty
Lord Doherty: "This is political territory and decision making which cannot be measured against legal standards."

A Scottish judge has rejected a bid to have Boris Johnson’s plan to shut down parliament ahead of Brexit declared illegal.

The case was brought to the Court of Session in Edinburgh by a cross-party group of 75 parliamentarians, who argued the PM had exceeded his powers.

But Lord Doherty ruled on Wednesday that the issue was for politicians and voters to judge, and not the courts.

He said there had been no contravention of the law by the UK government.

The group of MPs and peers behind the legal challenge, who are headed by SNP MP Joanna Cherry and Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, have said they will appeal against the ruling.

The appeal would almost certainly be heard this week – and potentially as early as Wednesday afternoon.

The prime minister announced on 28 August he wanted to shut down Parliament, a process known as proroguing, for five weeks ahead of a Queen’s Speech on 14 October.

His political opponents argue Mr Johnson’s aim is to avoid parliamentary scrutiny and to stop them passing legislation that would prevent the UK leaving the European Union without a deal on 31 October.

The UK government insists this is not the case, and says proroguing Parliament will allow Mr Johnson to set out his legislative plans in the Queen’s Speech while still allowing sufficient time for MPs to debate Brexit.

In his ruling, Lord Doherty said the decision to prorogue parliament was justiciable – a matter for the courts – in some circumstances but not in others, depending on the context.

But he said he had not been persuaded after hearing legal arguments from both sides on Tuesday that the case before him was justiciable.

He added: “In my view, the advice given in relation to the prorogation decision is a matter involving high policy and political judgement.

“This is political territory and decision making which cannot be measured against legal standards, but only by political judgements.

“Accountability for the advice is to parliament, and ultimately the electorate – not to the courts.”

Lord Doherty also said it was opinion that there had been “no contravention of the rule of law” by the prime minister.

He said: “The power to prorogue is a prerogative power and the prime minister had the vires (powers) to advise the sovereign as to its exercise.”

‘Ugly demons’

The parliamentarians were supported in their legal challenge by Jolyon Maugham of the Good Law Project, who said the ruling would immediately be appealed to the Inner House of the Court of Session and then to the Supreme Court in London.

He said: “The idea that if the prime minister suspends Parliament the courts can’t get involved looses some ugly demons.

“If he can do it for 34 days why not 34 weeks or 34 months? Where does the political power end? It is not the law as I understand it.”

It emerged during Tuesday’s hearing that Mr Johnson appears to have approved a plan to shut down the UK Parliament two weeks before publicly announcing it.

The Court of Session heard that the prime minister was sent a note on 15 August asking if he wanted to prorogue parliament from mid-September.

A tick and the word “yes” was written on the document.

Prorogation in a nutshell

Parliament is normally suspended – or prorogued – for a short period before a new session begins. It is done by the Queen, on the advice of the prime minister.

Parliamentary sessions normally last a year, but the current one has been going on for more than two years – ever since the June 2017 election.

When Parliament is prorogued, no debates and votes are held – and most laws that haven’t completed their passage through Parliament die a death.

This is different to “dissolving” Parliament – where all MPs give up their seats to campaign in a general election.

The last two times Parliament was suspended for a Queen’s Speech that was not after a general election, the closures lasted for four and 13 working days respectively.

If this prorogation happens as expected, it will see Parliament closed for 23 working days.

MPs have to approve recess dates, but they cannot block prorogation.

Source: bbc.co.uk

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