The decision on PM Boris Johnson was read out by Lady Hale, the president of the Supreme Court. (Twitter: Boris Johnson)
The UK Supreme Court has ruled that Boris Johnson’s advice to the Queen that parliament should be prorogued for five weeks at the height of the Brexit crisis was unlawful. The judgment from 11 justices on the UK’s Supreme Court follows an emergency three-day hearing last week that exposed fundamental legal differences over interpreting the country’s unwritten constitution.
While speaking to Sky News, Ian Blackford, SNP Westminster leader said Boris Johnson was never elected by the people, he should now do the honourable thing and resign
The decision was read out by Lady Hale, the president of the supreme court.
The first question the judges had to resolve was whether the PM’s decision – exploiting residual, royal prerogative powers – was “justiciable” and could consequently be subjected to scrutiny by the courts. The English high court declined to intervene; the Scottish appeal court concluded that judges did have legal authority to act.
In a unanimous verdict, the court ruled that Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament can be examined by judges, overturning the ruling of the high court in London.
Delivering judgment, Lady Hale said: “The question arises in circumstances which have never arisen before and are unlikely to arise again.”
Then, giving the court’s judgment on whether the decision to suspend parliament was legal, Hale said: “This court has … concluded that the prime minister’s advice to Her Majesty [ to suspend parliament] 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 should be quashed.
“This means that when the royal commissioners walked into the House of Lords [to prorogue parliament] 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.”
Hale continued: “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.”
She added: “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.”
Earlier, Britain’s Supreme Court had said that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is the “father of lies” who shut down the mother of parliaments in the run-up to Brexit.
In the second of three days of highly-charged arguments over whether Johnson’s advice to Queen Elizabeth II to suspend the legislature was unlawful, Britain’s highest court was told that his move was destroying parliamentary democracy.
The lawyer representing around 75 parliamentarians who challenged Johnson’s actions said the premier had unlawfully abused his power by closing parliament for five weeks until October 14 -- with Britain due to leave the EU on October 31.
One might think that a government “would engage solely in high politics as opposed to low, dishonest dirty tricks but I’m not sure we can assume that of this government,” lawyer Aidan O’Neill said.
“The mother of parliaments is being shut down by the father of lies. Rule that this prorogation is an unlawful abuse of power,” O’Neill told judges.
“Enough is enough.” Johnson, who took office in July, says he prorogued, or suspended, parliament to open a new session with a fresh legislative agenda.
His opponents claim he did so to silence opposition to his plans to take Britain out of the EU on October 31, with or without a divorce deal with Brussels. The Supreme Court is hearing appeals against two conflicting lower court decisions.
Scotland’s highest civil court found the suspension was unlawful, but the High Court in England said it was not a matter for judges to intervene in. The government’s lawyer told the Supreme Court that parliament had been debating Britain’s exit from the European Union for three years since the 2016 referendum vote to leave.
James Eadie argued that if MPs had needed more time, they had the opportunity to legislate before Johnson suspended their sitting on September 10.
“If the basic attack is this was improper purpose, motivation or effect, because it was designed to stymie parliament, we respectfully submit: that is unsustainable,” Eadie said.