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UK’s highest court to deliver historic Parliament suspension decision

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be in the United States when the Supreme Court gives its ruling on his prorogation move.

The Supreme Court will give its historic ruling on Tuesday (Supreme Court/PA)
The Supreme Court will give its historic ruling on Tuesday (Supreme Court/PA)

By Cathy Gordon, PA

The UK’s highest court is to give its historic ruling on Tuesday over the legality of the five-week suspension of Parliament.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has been accused of an unlawful “abuse of power”, will be in the United States when the Supreme Court announces its findings, following an unprecedented hearing last week.

Eleven justices have been asked to determine whether his advice to the Queen to prorogue Parliament, for what opponents describe as an “exceptionally long” period, was unlawful.

The Prime Minister advised the Queen on August 28 to prorogue Parliament for five weeks, and it was suspended on September 9  until October 14.

Mr Johnson says the five-week suspension is to allow the Government to set out a new legislative agenda in a Queen’s Speech when MPs return to Parliament.

But those who brought legal challenges argue the prorogation is designed to prevent parliamentary scrutiny of the UK’s impending exit from the EU on October 31.

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.

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Boris Johnson and the Queen (Victoria Jones/PA)

At the High Court in London, Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett and two other judges rejected campaigner and businesswoman Gina Miller’s challenge, finding that the prorogation was “purely political” and not a matter for the courts.

But in Scotland, a cross-party group of MPs and peers led by SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC won a ruling from the Inner House of the Court of Session that Mr Johnson’s prorogation decision was unlawful because it was “motivated by the improper purpose of stymieing Parliament”.

Mrs Miller has appealed against the decision of the High Court, asking the Supreme Court to find that the judges who heard her judicial review action “erred in law” in the findings they reached.

The justices have been asked to determine whether Mr Johnson’s advice to the Queen was “justiciable” – capable of challenge in the courts – and, if so, whether it was lawful.

During last week’s hearing, Lord Pannick QC, for Mrs Miller, told the packed court that Mr Johnson’s motive for a five-week suspension was to “silence” Parliament, and that his decision was an “unlawful abuse of power”.

He argued that Mr Johnson’s reasons for advising on a suspension of that length “were improper in that they were infected with factors inconsistent with the concept of Parliamentary sovereignty”.

But Sir James Eadie QC argued on the Prime Minister’s behalf that the suggestion the prorogation was intended to “stymie” Parliament ahead of Brexit was  “untenable”.

Mrs Miller’s case is supported by former prime minister Sir John Major, shadow attorney general Baroness Chakrabarti, the Scottish and Welsh governments, and Northern Irish victims’ campaigner Raymond McCord.

The justices have also been asked by the Westminster Government to allow an appeal against the decision in Scotland.

Depending on the legal basis upon which the judges reach their conclusions, Parliament may have to reconvene if Mr Johnson, who has refused to rule out a second suspension, loses the case.

Documents submitted to the court revealed three possible scenarios in the event the court rules the suspension was unlawful, two of which could see the Prime Minister make a fresh decision to prorogue Parliament.

The other outcome could see the court order Parliament to be recalled.

We are solely concerned with the lawfulness of the Prime Minister's decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament on the dates in question Lady Hale

But Mr Johnson’s lawyers urged the judges to consider the “very serious practical consequences” involved in this option, as it would require a new Queen’s Speech and State Opening of Parliament.

Lawyers for Mr Johnson’s opponents said Parliament should meet “urgently” after the ruling, to decide what to do in the event the prorogation is declared “null” by the court.

Asked shortly after the hearing ended last week to rule out proroguing Parliament for a second time, Mr Johnson said: “I have the greatest respect for the judiciary in this country.

“The best thing I can say at the moment whilst their deliberations are
continuing is that obviously I agree very much with the Master of the Rolls and the Lord Chief Justice and others who found in our favour the other day.”

He added: “I will wait to see what transpires.”

In New York on Monday, Mr Johnson was asked if he was nervous about the Supreme Court judgment, and replied: “It takes a lot to make me nervous these days.

“All I can tell you is that I have the highest regard for the judiciary in this country, I will look at the ruling with care.”

At the close of the hearing on Thursday, the court’s president Lady Hale said: “I must repeat that this case is not about when and on what terms the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.

“The result of this case will not determine that.

“We are solely concerned with the lawfulness of the Prime Minister’s decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament on the dates in question.”

PA

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