High Court dismisses Gina Miller’s challenge to five-week prorogation
The High Court on Friday dismissed a legal challenge by anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller to stop prime minister Boris Johnson suspending parliament for five weeks, reports Jane Croft.
The legal challenge focused on whether Mr Johnson’s advice to the Queen on suspending parliament for five weeks ahead of a Queen’s speech was lawful.
On Friday, three senior judges including the Lord Chief Justice Ian Burnett ruled that Mr Johnson’s plan to prorogue parliament was lawful and said their written reasons would follow at a later date.
Gina Miller’s legal appeal — along with a separate Scottish court case on proroguing parliament — is likely to be heard at the Supreme Court from September 17.
Critics of Mr Johnson’s plan have claimed that he wants to suspend parliament to avoid it stopping a no-deal Brexit. The prime minister has claimed that the shutdown is needed ahead of new “exciting” domestic legislation to be announced in the Queen’s speech on October 14.
During Thursday’s legal challenge, Ms Miller’s barrister David Pannick QC argued that Mr Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament was an “abuse of power” and that the courts should step in to protect the sovereignty of parliament.
He argued that Mr Johnson’s plan involves shutting down parliament for five weeks effectively “silencing” it at a crucial time in the run-up to the UK leaving the EU on October 31.
He also pointed out that in the past 40 years parliament had never been prorogued for longer than three weeks and it was the length of the shutdown that had caused concerns.
Lord Pannick told the court that “the rule of law demands the prime minister does not have unfettered power” and said “no prime minister has abused his power” to advise on a prorogation for “such manifestly bad reasons”. The courts could intervene to protect parliamentary sovereignty, he claimed.
Mr Johnson’s decision on suspending parliament has been “substantially influenced by a wholly extraneous and improper consideration”, namely hindering parliament from stopping a no-deal Brexit, Lord Pannick told the High Court, adding Mr Johnson had “seized this mundane power and used it improperly”.
He asked the court to declare that the prorogation of five weeks, in the specific context of current events, was an abuse of power because it breached parliamentary sovereignty at a moment when “time is of the essence” over Brexit.
During Thursday’s legal challenge, the court was referred to sensitive documents, including secret Downing Street memos that included a handwritten note from Mr Johnson saying proroguing was not “especially shocking” and saying: “The whole September session is a rigmarole” intended to show “that MPs were earning their crusts”.
In cabinet meeting minutes dated September 2 that were also released as part of the legal challenge, the prime minister told cabinet that “progress with the EU should not be exaggerated but it was substantial” and “whilst there was a good chance that a deal could be secured, there was also a high chance that it could not”.
The government opposed Ms Miller’s legal challenge and argued that the case should not be considered by the courts because prorogation is “high policy and politics”, not a matter of law.
James Eadie QC, representing Mr Johnson, claimed to the High Court that parliament had been debating Brexit in recent days and the case would take the courts into “inappropriate territory” and would take the judiciary into a “political maelstrom”.
Ms Miller was supported in her legal battle by former Conservative prime minister John Major, as well as the Welsh government, Scottish Lord Advocate and Labour’s Shami Chakrabarti who made written submissions.