UK Parliament suspension ‘improper and unlawful’

In an historic constitutional precedent, court rules the prime minister intentionally misled the country’s monarch.

General view of the interior of The Commons Chamber at the Houses of Parliament in central London November 12, 2015. REUTERS / POOL / JUSTIN TALLIS -
The UK Parliament sits empty following its suspension, which was ruled unlawful by a Scottish court on Wednesday [Justin Tallis via Reuters]

Glasgow, Scotland – A Scottish court ruled on Wednesday that Prime Minister Boris Johnson‘s suspension of Parliament was unlawful – making him the first leader of the UK judged to have misled the monarch.

In a sensational move, three judges sitting in Scotland’s highest court of appeal found in favour of a group of more than 70 parliamentarians who challenged the Conservative leader’s controversial decision to prorogue – or suspend – Parliament for five weeks, which came into effect on Tuesday.

The verdict to support the cross-party group of politicians followed a ruling last week from Edinburgh’s Court of Session, which rejected pleas from the petitioners that the prime minister’s action was illegal because it curtailed parliamentary scrutiny ahead of Britain’s planned withdrawal from the European Union on October 31. 

“This is a valid ruling today by the court,” Paul Sweeney, one of the politicians who had put their name to the legal challenge, told Al Jazeera.

The Glasgow Labour Party MP added: “It’s a historic constitutional precedent and we await to see the immediate effect. It’s my view that Parliament’s prorogation should now be automatically rescinded.”


But before a scheduled hearing at the UK Supreme Court on September 17, it remains unclear what the immediate impact of the ruling will be.

‘Improper purpose’

While the full judgement will be handed down later in the week, the judges had stark words for the British government in a summary of their findings.

They stated the “improper purpose of stymying Parliament” was behind Johnson’s decision – not the stated motivation of introducing a new domestic legislative agenda.

The judges added: “The court will accordingly make an order declaring that the prime minister’s advice to HM the Queen and the prorogation which followed thereon was unlawful and is thus null and of no effect.”

In essence, the court said Johnson intentionally misled the monarch, an official ruling that was the first in British history.

“He is the first UK prime minister to have been found by a court to have misled the sovereign,” legal expert David Allen Green wrote in the Financial Times.

Simon Pia, a former Scottish Labour Party press adviser, told Al Jazeera this was “a crushing blow for the [British] government”.

“What this has flagged up is the importance of the rule of law and the sovereignty of Parliament, which are the foundations of British democracy,” said EU supporter Pia.

“Boris Johnson as prime minister has tried to ride roughshod over this and the Scottish legal system has brought him to task.”

The British government said it was “disappointed by today’s decision, and will appeal to the UK Supreme Court”.


Losing control

This decision by the Scottish court was the latest blow to Johnson’s aspirations to leave the EU by the October 31 deadline with or without a divorce deal.

Last week, his government lost control of Parliament to an informal coalition of the main opposition and Conservative rebels, who then passed a bill on Monday to block a “no-deal” Brexit within the current deadline.

It required the government to ask the EU for a three-month delay – to the end of January – if no withdrawal agreement was reached and approved by Parliament by October 19.

Scottish pro-Brexit campaigner Tom Walker told Al Jazeera the Scottish court’s ruling was “a dangerous venture of the judiciary into politics”.

Two other legal challenges remain ongoing. Ardent anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller was unsuccessful in her attempt to overturn the prorogation of Parliament in an English court last week, but was granted permission to appeal to the UK Supreme Court on September 17.

A similar legal challenge in Northern Ireland will see a verdict delivered on Thursday when it, too, could proceed to the Supreme Court in London.

Such is the furore over the Scottish appeal court ruling the UK Lord Chancellor himself was forced to rebut unofficial government suggestions that judges north of the border were politically biased.

In a tweet, Robert Buckland QC MP said: “Our judges are renowned around the world for their excellence and impartiality, and I have total confidence in their independence in every case.”

But with Scotland’s separate and distinct legal system delivering a blow to Johnson’s suspension, a “constitutional crisis” could be in the offing next week, argued Pia.

“If the UK Supreme Court rules in a different manner from the Scottish top court then that will have big repercussions for the [UK] union,” he said.

Scotland has a largely pro-EU electorate, voting by 62-38 percent to remain in the European bloc in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Follow Alasdair Soussi on Twitter: @AlasdairSoussi

Source: Al Jazeera