Supreme Court rules Parliament suspension unlawful

The Supreme Court has ruled that the suspension of Parliament from 10 September was “unlawful” and is “void”, with MPs expected to sit in Parliament on 25 September amid calls for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s resignation.

Houses of Parliament
Houses of Parliament
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The Supreme Court has ruled that the government’s suspension of Parliament was unlawful and therefore is “void and of no effect”.

Lady Hale, President of the Supreme Court, read out the announcement of the judgement today (24 September), a unanimous verdict made by the 11 Supreme Court judges called to rule on the suspension of Parliament at an emergency three-day hearing last week.

Lady Hale stated that it was now up to the Speakers of the House of Commons and House of Lords to decide how to proceed. John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, released a statement calling for Parliament to “convene without delay”.

Parliament has been suspended – the official term for which is prorogued – since 10 September, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government stating that the reason for prorogation – where the prime minister advises the Queen to shut Parliament – was to allow his government to prepare for a Queen’s Speech, where the government lays out its legislative agenda for the coming year.

Prorogation is a regular process in Parliament, but the timing of the current suspension has been controversial due to its proximity to the legal Brexit date of 31 October, with a no-deal Brexit looking increasingly possible. 

The suspension of Parliament for five weeks until 14 October has meant that no further debate on Brexit has been possible, although MPs were able to rush through legislation that means Johnson must go to the EU to ask for an extension to Article 50 if he cannot agree a Brexit deal at the European Council on 18 October – Johnson has already indicated that he will be unwilling to do so.

‘No justification’ for lengthy suspension

The Supreme Court was ruling on two appeals made against decisions taken by the English High Court and Scotland’s Court of Session. The first was an appeal brought by anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller against the High Court’s ruling that prorogation was not ‘justiciable’ and could not be scrutinised by the courts. The second was an appeal by the government to the Court of Session’s ruling that prorogation was unlawful and was used to prevent Parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit.

The case has proved exemplary of the constitutional quagmire that Brexit has created. The Supreme Court ruled that the decision to prorogue Parliament was indeed ‘justiciable’, though Lady Hale acknowledged the unprecedented nature of the case, noting that “the question arises in circumstances which have never arisen before and are unlikely to arise again”. 

When explaining the judgement of the Supreme Court, Lady Hales said that “no justification for taking action with such an extreme effect has been put before the court” and states that the government “does not explain why it was necessary to bring Parliamentary business to a halt for five weeks… when the normal period necessary to prepare for the Queen’s Speech is four to six days”. 

She continued: “The Court is bound to conclude, therefore, that the decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification.”

Lady Hale added: “This Court has already concluded that the Prime Minister’s advice to Her Majesty was unlawful, void and of no effect. This means that the Order in Council to which it led was also unlawful, void and of no effect and should be quashed. This means that when the Royal Commissioners walked into the House of Lords it was as if they walked in with a blank sheet of paper. The prorogation was also void and of no effect. Parliament has not been prorogued. This is the unanimous judgment of all 11 Justices.”

Lady Hale concluded that “it is now for Parliament, and in particular the Speaker and the Lord Speaker to decide what to do next”. She added that it was “not clear” whether anything would be required of the prime minister to recall Parliament, but that if it is, his counsel has told the court that “he will take all necessary steps to comply with the terms of any declaration made by this court”.

Johnson should ‘consider his position’

The response to the ruling of the Supreme Court has been met with calls to immediately reconvene Parliament and for Boris Johnson to resign.

In a statement released following the Supreme Court’s ruling, Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow welcomed the Supreme Court’s judgement and added that “as the embodiment of our Parliamentary democracy, the House of Commons must convene without delay. To this end, I will now consult the party leaders as a matter of urgency.”

In a later statement outside the House of Parliament, Bercow called for Parliament to sit at 11.30am tomorrow (25 September). Bercow hinted that he may allow the use of Standing order 24 (SO24) applications for emergency debates. The SO24 motion is the mechanism by which MPs were able to take control of the order paper in the Commons to pass legislation designed to rule out a no-deal Brexit earlier this month.

Speaking at the Labour Party conference this morning, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called for Johnson to “consider his position” in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling that Johnson misled the Queen.

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson said in a statement that the judgement showed Johnson is “not fit to be prime minister” and that “Parliament should be sitting so that we can continue to question the Conservative government on their disastrous Brexit plans”.

As of yet, no official response from Downing Street has been issued, with Boris Johnson currently in New York for the UN general assembly, though the Guardian is reporting that Downing Street officials have called the ruling “extraordinary”, while Sam Coates of Sky revealed that the Conservative whips office has asked Tory MPs to not comment publicly on the judgement.