UK Supreme Court rules suspension of Parliament was illegal
The ruling is a major blow to the prime minister who had suspended Parliament for five weeks.
In a major blow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Britain's highest court ruled Tuesday that his decision to suspend Parliament for five weeks in the crucial countdown to the country's Brexit deadline was illegal.
The unanimous Supreme Court ruling declared the order to suspend Parliament "void and of no effect."
Supreme Court President Brenda Hale said the suspension "was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification."
She said the court's decision means Parliament was never legally suspended and is technically still sitting.
In this nation without a written constitution, the case marked a rare confrontation between the prime minister, the courts and Parliament over their rights and responsibilities.
It revolved around whether Johnson acted lawfully when he advised the queen to suspend Parliament for five weeks during a crucial time frame before the October 31 Brexit deadline when Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union.
Johnson, who is in New York for the UN General Assembly, has refused to say whether he will resign if he is found to have broken the law, or will seek to shut down Parliament again.
The decision followed three days of hearings last week before a panel of 11 judges.
The court rejected the government's assertions that the decision to suspend Parliament until October 14 was routine and not related to Brexit. It claimed that under Britain's unwritten constitution, it is a matter for politicians, not courts, to decide.
The government's opponents argue that Johnson illegally shut down Parliament just weeks before the country is due to leave the 28-nation bloc for the "improper purpose" of dodging lawmakers' scrutiny of his Brexit plans.
They also accused Johnson of misleading the queen, whose formal approval was needed to suspend the legislature.
Johnson and Parliament have been at odds since he took power in July with the determination to take Britain out of the EU on October 31 with or without a divorce deal with Europe.
Here are the key comments from the judgment:
"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'." "This Court has concluded that this case is about the limits of the power to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament." "This was not a normal prorogation in the run-up to a Queen's Speech. It prevented Parliament from carrying out its constitutional role for five out of the possible eight weeks between the end of the summer recess and exit day on 31st October. Proroguing Parliament is quite different from Parliament going into recess."
"This prolonged suspension of Parliamentary democracy took place in quite exceptional circumstances: the fundamental change which was due to take place in the Constitution of the United Kingdom on 31st October. Parliament, and in particular the House of Commons as the elected representatives of the people, has a right to a voice in how that change comes about. The effect upon the fundamentals of our democracy was extreme."
"No justification for taking action with such an extreme effect has been put before the court." "The only evidence of why it was taken is the memorandum from Nikki da Costa of 15th August. This explains why holding the Queen's Speech to open a new session of Parliament on 14th October would be desirable. It does not explain why it was necessary to bring Parliamentary business to a halt for five weeks before that, when the normal period necessary to prepare for the Queen's Speech is four to six days."
"It does not discuss what Parliamentary time would be needed to secure Parliamentary approval for any new withdrawal agreement, as required by section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
"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."
"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." "It is for Parliament, and in particular the Speaker and the Lord Speaker to decide what to do next. Unless there is some Parliamentary rule of which we are unaware, they can take immediate steps to enable each House to meet as soon as possible."
"It is not clear to us that any step is needed from the Prime Minister, but if it is, the court is pleased that his counsel have told the court that he will take all necessary steps to comply with the terms of any declaration made by this court."
Source of the court summary: www.supremecourt.uk via Reuters