Appeal court upholds ruling on Brexit legal challenge
Any Brexit negotiations by Prime Minister Boris Johnson's administration must remain outside judicial scrutiny, the Court of Appeal has ruled.
Senior judges in Belfast upheld a finding that legal challenges to the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without an agreement are non-justiciable.
The cases brought amid claims a no-deal exit would breach the Good Friday Agreement and threaten the Northern Ireland peace process could now go to the Supreme Court in London.
Victims' campaigner Raymond McCord and two other applicants were attempting to overturn the High Court's dismissal of his legal bid to block any departure from Europe on those terms by the October 31 deadline.
But dismissing their appeals, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan held: "The exercise of the prerogative power in the negotiations with the EU 27 is within the scope of the prerogative and is not justiciable."
Appeal judges were examining legal points around the Government's Brexit strategy specific to Northern Ireland.
Mr McCord, whose son Raymond jnr was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries in 1997, contends that leaving without a deal will lead to chaos, economic misery and imperil relative peace in the region.
His lawyers argued that a no-deal Brexit would unlawfully undermine Northern Ireland's constitutional position and inflict clear damage on north-south relations.
According to their case such a scenario breaches the European Union (Withdrawal) Act which protects the 1998 Belfast Agreement.
However, the Prime Minister's legal team insisted Brexit laws impose no obligation on the UK to negotiate an exit deal.
Instead, they maintained, the departure process became inexorable once notification was given.
Sir Declan, who heard the appeal with Lord Justices Stephens and Treacy, acknowledged the applicants' submissions "demonstrate that a UK withdrawal from the EU without an agreement would give rise to the very considerable risk of deterioration in the security situation in Northern Ireland, an adverse impact on the Northern Ireland economy and a severe limitation on the work of the implementation bodies operating with the support of the North-South Ministerial Council".
But he emphasised: "It is not our task, however, to evaluate the merits of a UK withdrawal from the EU without an agreement."
Backing the High Court decision, appeal judges held that the government is exercising prerogative powers in its negotiations with the EU 27.
Following the ruling lawyers for the appellants sought permission to take their case to the Supreme Court. Although leave was refused, they can now petition directly for a hearing in London.
Sir Declan confirmed he would indicate it was a "matter of urgency" so that Supreme Court justices can decide whether they want to examine the cases before the October 31 Brexit deadline.