Suspending UK Parliament Ruled Lawful in London Court

Jane Werrell
By Jane Werrell
September 7, 2019UK

LONDON—A second court ruled in favor of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sept. 6, rejecting a legal challenge against his decision to shut down parliament for five weeks.

The case was brought to court by anti-Brexit campaigner and businesswoman Gina Miller, who called the suspension an abuse of power. She’s backed by former British Prime Minister John Major.

“We are very disappointed with the judgment today,” she said after losing the legal challenge. “We feel strongly that parliamentary sovereignty is fundamental to the stability and future of our country and therefore worth fighting to defend. As our politics becomes ever more chaotic we feel it is absolutely vital that parliament should be sitting.”

The case is expected to be appealed at the Supreme Court on Sept. 17.

Why is Parliament Shutting Down?

Usually, parliament is suspended, or prorogued, for a short time every year before a Queen’s speech, which sets out the government’s agenda. It marks the end of a parliamentary session.

But Boris Johnson requested parliament be shut down for five weeks, beginning at any time between Sept. 9 and 12.

This is longer than usual, but does include a three-week period when lawmakers are in recess anyway.

Johnson says he is suspending parliament so that he can set out a new legislative program, and said there is plenty of time before and after the suspension to debate Brexit in parliament. But his opponents say the timing and length of this suspension is not fair, limiting the time they had to pass legislation blocking a no-deal Brexit.

However, in the little time they did have, British lawmakers held a series of votes this week, and passed a bill designed to block a no-deal Brexit. It has now passed, and is likely to soon be signed into law by the Queen.

While parliament is suspended, British lawmakers won’t be able to debate or vote in parliament.

Why Was the Case Rejected?

The reasons for the High Court rejecting Miller’s case are not yet in writing, but UK constitutional expert Robert Craig who was at the court said judges would not want to intervene in political debate.

“[The suspension] is definitely aggressive. But is it sufficiently aggressive, pushy if you like, to justify a court saying: ‘This is actually an improper use of this power?'” said Craig from the London School of Economics.

“The judges don’t want to be sucked into the political domain. I think that’s an extremely wise and commendable judicial instinct. Because they are not elected.”

He said he was skeptical about judges changing the rules.

“It would have a ripple effect, because it would mean all other prorogative powers they exercise, even declaring war, could be in court. I don’t see the judges opening that can of worms. But you never know,” he added.

On Wednesday, a Scottish court ruled that Johnson’s plans to shut down parliament were legal.

Another case is ongoing in Northern Ireland, and is adjourned until Monday.

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