Demonstrators protest outside the Supreme Court in London [Henry Nicholls/Reuters]
Prime Minister Boris Johnson acted unlawfully when he suspended the United Kingdom’s Parliament, the country’s highest court has ruled.
The prime minister, who suffered a series of defeats when he lost his parliamentary majority and ability to govern through the legislature, suspended Parliament just weeks before the crucial October 31 deadline for the UK to leave the European Union.
Johnson said at the time that a five-week suspension – an unusually lengthy period – was necessary in order to present a new domestic legislative agenda, a ceremonial event which culminates in a speech made by the queen outlining the goverment’s plans.
But the UK’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Tuesday that the real motivation was to prevent MPs from scrutinising the government ahead of the divorce deadline.
“This was not a normal prorogation in the run-up to a Queen’s Speech,” said Lady Hale, president of the Supreme Court, while handing down the judgment. “It prevented Parliament from carrying out its constitutional role for five out of the possible eight weeks between the end of the summer recess and exit day on 31st October…
“This prolonged suspension of Parliamentary democracy took place in quite exceptional circumstances: the fundamental change which was due to take place in the Constitution of the United Kingdom on 31st October. Parliament, and in particular the House of Commons as the elected representatives of the people,
has a right to a voice in how that change comes about. The effect upon the fundamentals of our
democracy was extreme.
The normal period to prepare a legislative agenda was four to six days, she added.
The suspension was “unlawful, void and of no effect”, she concluded.
“Parliament has not been prorogued. This is the unanimous judgement of this court.”
Jolyon Maugham QC was one of the driving figures behind the case.
“I am delighted today the Supreme Court has protected the foundational principle of any democracy,” he said outside the court.
He paid tribute to the 8,000 people who had contributed to a crowdfunding campaign for the legal case. “This is their victory,” he said.
Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands is reporting from the Supreme Court.
“It’s now up to the Speakers of both houses – the House of Commons and and the House of Lords – to work out what comes next,” he said.
“The effect is that parliament is still in session, and Boris Johnson has said he would respect the decision – and the ball is now in his court.”
Pressure on Boris Johnson to resign mounted immediately the judgment was announced.
“This should shake the foundations of this government,” tweeted human rights lawyer Schona Jolly QC.
“In normal times (and these are anything but), this should be an absolutely straightforward resigning matter for the Prime Minister.”