UK Supreme Court delivers Historical Ruling

Key facts: The UK Supreme Court has delivered a forceful rebuke of prime minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament. Justices stated in a unanimous decision that his advice to the Queen was “unlawful”.

What caused this? The supreme court heard appeals over three days arising out of separate legal challenges in England and Scotland, in which leading judges reached different conclusions.

Bigger picture: Mr Johnson is considered to have acted unlawfully when he advised Queen Elizabeth to suspend parliament just weeks before Brexit. Therefore, the legislature had not been prorogued.

The decision means that Parliament was never prorogued and that MPs are free to re-enter the House of Commons with immediate effect. The three-day hearing at the Supreme Court last week dealt with one appeal from campaigner and businesswoman Gina Miller and the second one from the government. Mrs Miller was appealing against the English High Court’s decision that the prorogation was “purely political” and not a matter for the courts. On the other hand, the government was appealing against the ruling by Scotland’s Court of Session that the prorogation was “unlawful” and had been used to “stymie” Parliament.

Following the Supreme Court decision, speaker John Bercow announced that the House of Commons is due to resume on 25 September and sit at 11.30. The timing of the prorogation was controversial because it reduced the time Parliament was sitting ahead of the Brexit deadline, with MPs unable to put questions to ministers or scrutinise government legislation during the suspension. Parliament was due to return on 14 October, with the UK scheduled to leave the EU on 31 October. Jo Swinson, the Lib Dem leader, and Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, have both called on Boris Johnson to resign.

The prorogation crisis and Brexit debacle has led to several calls, including by former Green Party leader Caroline Lucas, for a written constitution with a set of principles and rules of engagements between politicians. The UK does not have a codified constitution but an unwritten one formed of Acts of Parliament, court judgments and conventions.

Prorogation: name given to the period between the end of a session of Parliament and the State Opening of Parliament that begins the next session. It usually takes the form of an announcement, on behalf of the Queen, read in the House of Lords.

House of Commons: elected body consisting of 650 Members of Parliament (MPs) to representing the interests and concerns of their constituency. MPs consider and propose new laws and scrutinise government policies by asking ministers questions about current issues either in the Commons Chamber or in Committees.

 

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