UK Supreme Court begins hearing appeals on parliament suspension

September 18, 2019

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LONDON: Campaigner Gina Miller leaves the Supreme Court on Tuesday after the hearing on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament.—Reuters
LONDON: Campaigner Gina Miller leaves the Supreme Court on Tuesday after the hearing on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament.—Reuters

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson suspended parliament to avoid the risk of MPs frustrating his policies, the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court heard on Tuesday.

A larger bench of the UK’s top court was told this on the first day of the hearing of appeals on Mr Johnson’s advice to Queen Elizabeth II to prorogue parliament.

The prime minister in August manoeuvred to give his political opponents less time to block a ‘no-deal Brexit’ before the Oct 31 withdrawal deadline, in a move that outraged his critics.

Scotland’s highest civil court found last week that Mr Johnson’s actions were motivated by the “improper purpose of stymieing parliament”, and he had misled the Queen in the sovereign’s exercise of prerogative powers.

Two separate appeals on the same issue are being heard by an 11-judge bench headed by Lady Brenda Hale, who will be determining whether Mr Johnson’s advice to the Queen to prorogue parliament was justiciable, and if so, whether it is lawful.

The hearing will continue for three days, with arguments expected to close on Thursday, after which the bench will deliberate on a decision.

At the outset, Lady Hale noted that three senior judges in Scotland have reached a different conclusion to three senior judges in England and Wales, and said that the Supreme Court exists to decide such difficult questions of law.

“We are not concerned with the wider political issues which form the content of this legal issue. The determination of this legal issue will not determine when and how the UK leaves the EU,” the judge said, referring to Brexit.

Lawyers for the appellants presented their arguments on the opening day, with Lord David Pannick arguing that Mr Johnson’s use of prorogation was “improper”. “To evade control by parliament conflicts with the principle of making prerogative powers subject to control by the legislature,” he said.

Relying on the prime minister’s interviews to news outlets, Lord Pannick told the bench that Mr Johnson regards parliament as a potential threat to the implementation of his policies.

The following two days will see arguments put forth by the respondents as well as six interveners — people who are not a party to an application for permission to appeal, but who may apply for permission to intervene.

The case is a landmark hearing in which the country’s apex court will determine the lawfulness of Mr Johnson’s decision. If it finds that he misled the queen, the country will find itself in an extraordinary constitutional circumstance and pressure will mount on him to resign.

Members of the British public waited in a queue outside the Supreme Court building in Westminster hours before the hearing began.

Although the hearing was expected to begin at 10:30am, some had arrived as early as 5am to secure a place inside courtroom one as it seats visitors on a first-come-first-served basis. A majority of the people said it was their first time attending a court hearing.

Outside the court premises, activists and onlookers carrying anti-Johnson signs and posters had gathered since morning. About halfway through the proceedings at noon, pro-Leave campaigners joined the crowd and chanted in favour of the prime minister.

Published in Dawn, September 18th, 2019