Suspension of parliament 'unlawful', Court of Session rules

Written by Ailean Beaton on 11 September 2019 in News

A panel of judges in Scotland’s highest civil court found that the decision to suspend was “motivated by the improper purpose of stymying Parliament”.

Image credit:Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire/PA

Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament has been found unlawful by the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

A panel of judges in Scotland’s highest civil court found that the decision to suspend was “motivated by the improper purpose of stymying Parliament”.

It is unclear whether this decision to overturn a previous ruling by the court will have an immediate effect the suspension of parliament, as the UK Government are expected to appeal this latest decision in the UK Supreme Court next week.

The court ruled in favour of an appeal brought by a group of 78 opposition MPs who are challenging the UK Government.

Lord Brodie, one of the panel of three ‘First Division’ judges hearing the appeal, said that the suspension represented an “egregious case of a clear failure to comply with generally accepted standards of behaviour of public authorities.”

Brodie said that the suspension of parliament seems to “prevent or impede Parliament holding the executive to account and legislating with regard to Brexit, and to allow the executive to pursue a policy of a no deal Brexit without further Parliamentary interference.”

The Scottish court decision clashes with a ruling on a similar case brought before judges in England, led by anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller.

The case against the Prime Minister was brought to Scotland’s highest civil court by a cross-party group of 75 MPs, including SNP MP Joanna Cherry, Labour MP Ian Murray and Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson.

The SNP’s Joanna Cherry, who is the first petitioner on the case, said it was a “historic ruling” from the court.  

Commenting, she said: “Today’s ruling of the highest court in Scotland that Boris Johnson’s plans to shut down the UK Parliament ahead of Brexit are unlawful and unconstitutional is a huge victory and a vindication of our case. The prorogation must now be stopped.

“The court agreed it is unlawful to suspend the UK Parliament for the specific purpose of preventing Parliament from scrutinising the Brexit process and holding this shambolic Tory government's extreme Brexit plans to account.

“We have uncovered more and more evidence that this was a plot by Boris Johnson and his cronies to prevent us from stopping them taking Scotland and the UK off a Brexit cliff edge by forcing through a damaging no-deal against the will of Parliament.

“This ruling takes us one step closer to ensuring the UK government cancels their shameful prorogation and blatant plot to force through an extreme Brexit. Boris Johnson cannot be allowed to break the law with impunity.”

The MPs case is being backed by Jo Maugham QC of the Good Law Project.

Speaking to Holyrood, Maugham said: “This is a critically important moment for our constitution because if the Government is right then the prime minister could suspend parliament at his whim.

“Parliament would not be able to do anything about it and the courts couldn’t do anything about it either because it would not be a justiciable question before the courts.

“If we lose, our parliamentary democracy would be a hollow shell.”

Maugham said that it was his understanding that the court ruling ends prorogation with immediate effect, saying that MPs could theoretically go back to work today.

He said: “It’s a matter of some dispute, but our understanding is that parliament is un-suspended immediately.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon urged MPs to return to parliament.

She Tweeted: "Today’s Court of Session judgment is of huge constitutional significance - but the immediate political implications are clear. Court says prorogation was unlawful and null and void - so Parliament must be recalled immediately to allow the essential work of scrutiny to continue."

A Supreme Court appeal on this ruling is expected next week.

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