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Supreme Court delivers ruling on whether Boris Johnson broke the law

Boris Johnson was humiliated in the Supreme Court today as judges ruled unanimously he illegally prorogued Parliament to stop debate on Brexit – and MPs can return immediately.  

Lady Hale said the Prime Minister’s decision to ask the Queen to shut down the Commons for five weeks was ‘unlawful, void and of no effect’.  

Today’s extraordinary Supreme Court judgment will have seismic consequences over whether the political power of the Prime Minister built up over centuries can be neutered by the courts.

It also delivers sledgehammer blow to his promise to take Britain out of the EU on October 31 ‘deal or No Deal’ with remainer MPs ready to take control of the process. 

Mr Johnson, who is 3,500 miles away from London meeting President Trump in New York today, has already vowed not to resign from No 10 if he loses the case and is found to have misled Her Majesty. 

But in sensational stand-off the PM will be considering whether he can ask the Queen to prorogue Parliament again, this time within the law.

The court suggested that Parliament can now immediately reconvene – but because of the unprecedented situation is still unclear exactly how this could happen.

Normally with a recall of the Commons the PM has responsibility for triggering MPs to sit again.

But Commons Speaker John Bercow and Lords Speaker Lord Fowler could be ready to declare that that Houses will sit tomorrow – or even later today.  

Watch the ruling live here: 

Lady Hale delivers the verdict of the Supreme Court as they ruled that Boris broke the law when he shut down Parliament

Mr Johnson is currently in New York (pictured) where he is to meet US President Donald Trump on Tuesday for talks at the United Nations General Assembly as the Supreme Court made its ruling

Mr Johnson is currently in New York (pictured) where he is to meet US President Donald Trump on Tuesday for talks at the United Nations General Assembly as the Supreme Court made its ruling

A smiling Gina Miller, an arch-Remainer who brought one of the cases against the Government, arriving at the Supreme Court for today's ruling

A smiling Gina Miller, an arch-Remainer who brought one of the cases against the Government, arriving at the Supreme Court for today’s ruling

Protesters gathered in the London rain outside the Supreme Court in Parliament Square today ahead of the historic judgment

Protesters gathered in the London rain outside the Supreme Court in Parliament Square today ahead of the historic judgment

What could happen today: The four possible options for the Supreme Court 

Option 1: Boris Johnson wins and the five-week suspension of Parliament will continue until October 14 as planned.

Option 2: The court rules his suspension of Parliament is unlawful – but the judges do not demand Parliament is recalled after deciding they cannot intervene. The judgment may also contain the advice Boris needs to rectify his mistake. But it could also pile pressure on the PM to change his mind – but not compel him to.

Option 3: The judges rule that the PM must recall Parliament before October 14 – but allow him enough time to draw up a new Queen’s Speech and get ready for the ceremonial State Opening of Parliament after the conference season ends in around a fortnight.

Option 4: The nuclear option for the judges would be that the court could declare the suspension unlawful and Parliament’s session did not stop – meaning MPs could return this week. Boris Johnson could respond by going back to Queen proroguing Parliament again, using the judgment to ensure he stays within the law.

11 of the UK’s most senior judges were asked to have the final say on two polar-opposite court cases brought as the PM vowed to take Britain out of the EU on October 31 ‘deal or No Deal’.

Last month the High Court in London threw out the case brought by arch-Remainer Gina Miller and former prime minister Sir John Major after three judges decided Mr Johnson’s decision was ‘political’ and not a matter for them.

But the Court of Session in Edinburgh sided with a SNP-led case that the PM’s decision was illegal and purely for political gain so should be reversed.

The Prime Minister wanted the Supreme Court to back the English decision and dismiss the Scottish one – but lost in an one of the most extraordinary cases involving a British leader in history.

There were four possible outcomes for the PM with the best case scenario for him being that he won and the Commons remains shut as he decided until October 14. 

Judges could also choose to find against him but do nothing – or find against him and demand the Queen’s Speech is brought forward by days or weeks.

The worst case scenario was that judges would find he deliberately lied to Her Majesty, broke the law and MPs would return to Parliament this week because his prorogation was ‘void’.   

The Prime Minister has insisted said that he would comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling.

But he has repeatedly refused to rule out going back to the Queen and proroguing again for a second time, this time within the law.

Mr Johnson addressed the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York last night, and afterwards denied he had closed down Parliament to stymie MPs wanting to discuss Brexit.

Breaking into cod-French he said: ‘Donnez-moi un break is my message to those who say there will be no parliamentary scrutiny. It is absolute nonsense.’ 

Mr Johnson said the suspension was ordered to allow for a Queen’s Speech on October 14 when he will unveil a new legislative agenda. 

Asked if his position would be untenable if the court rules against him, he said: ‘No, I think the reasons for wanting a Queen’s Speech are extremely good.’ 

He went on: ‘When it comes to parliamentary scrutiny, what are we losing? Four or five days of parliamentary scrutiny when they’ve had three years to discuss these issues.’  

Eleven justices were asked to determine whether his advice to the Queen to prorogue Parliament, for what opponents describe as an ‘exceptionally long’ period, was unlawful.

Boris Johnson has been accused of misleading the Queen by asking her to shut down Parliament

Boris Johnson has been accused of misleading the Queen by asking her to shut down Parliament

Mr Johnson was asked whether he was nervous about the Supreme Court judgment in an interview in New York, and replied: ‘It takes a lot to make me nervous these days.

‘All I can tell you is that I have the highest regard for the judiciary in this country, I will look at the ruling with care.’

How Parliament was shut down at outbreak of WW1, again after WW2… and also when Sir John Major was PM

The suspension of Parliament has been used for political reasons during key moments in Britain’s history, lawyers for the Government argued yesterday.

Rebuking the claims of campaigners, the Government cited how Parliament was broken up – or ‘prorogued’ – for weeks at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

Legal submissions setting out Boris Johnson’s case said ‘the history of the power to prorogue Parliament supports the fact that it has been used for political purposes’.

The document said prorogation had been used at times of ‘political importance’.

This included ‘restricting the time otherwise available to debate legislation’, as well as occasions when the ‘Government of the day lacked a majority in the House of Commons’. Lord Keen, the Advocate General for Scotland, representing the Government, said Parliament was prorogued from September 18 until October 27, 1914, shortly after the outbreak of war. He told the Supreme Court: ‘That clearly was not for the purpose of the King’s Speech.’

The written submissions noted that the King’s Speech on prorogation at the time called for ‘action not speech’.

Lord Keen said the Government arranged for two one-day prorogations in 1948 to force through legislation on how the House of Lords could block bills. 

‘This last example was clearly for a party political purpose,’ he added. ‘It was a naked political reason.’

Sir John Major prorogued Parliament himself ahead of the 1997 general election, which prevented MPs from debating a report on the cash for questions scandal, but has questioned whether the current prorogation by Boris Johnson was done in the best interests of the country. 

On that occasion, the prorogation was in March and followed by an election on May 1, resulting in a change of government after Tony Blair’s landslide win.  

He was questioned by reporters on the flight to New York over whether he would resign if the Government lost.

‘I will wait and see what the justices decide, the Supreme Court decides, because as I’ve said before I believe that the reasons for … wanting a Queen’s speech were very good indeed,’ he said.

Asked whether he would rule out proroguing Parliament again before the current October 31 Brexit deadline, the PM replied: ‘I’m saying that Parliament will have bags of time to scrutinise the deal that I hope we will be able to do.’

The Prime Minister advised the Queen on August 28 to prorogue Parliament for five weeks, and it was suspended on September 9  until October 14.

Mr Johnson says the five-week suspension is to allow the Government to set out a new legislative agenda in a Queen’s Speech when MPs return to Parliament.

But those who brought legal challenges argued the prorogation is designed to prevent parliamentary scrutiny of the UK’s impending exit from the EU on October 31.

The Supreme Court heard appeals over three days arising out of separate legal challenges in England and Scotland, in which leading judges reached different conclusions.

At the High Court in London, Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett and two other judges rejected campaigner and businesswoman Gina Miller’s challenge, finding that the prorogation was ‘purely political’ and not a matter for the courts.

But in Scotland, a cross-party group of MPs and peers led by SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC won a ruling from the Inner House of the Court of Session that Mr Johnson’s prorogation decision was unlawful because it was ‘motivated by the improper purpose of stymieing Parliament’.

Mrs Miller has appealed against the decision of the High Court, asking the Supreme Court to find that the judges who heard her judicial review action ‘erred in law’ in the findings they reached.

The justices have been asked to determine whether Mr Johnson’s advice to the Queen was ‘justiciable’ – capable of challenge in the courts – and, if so, whether it was lawful.

During last week’s hearing, Lord Pannick QC, for Mrs Miller, told the packed court that Mr Johnson’s motive for a five-week suspension was to ‘silence’ Parliament, and that his decision was an ‘unlawful abuse of power’.

Gina Miller's star QC Lord Pannick arrives for the judgment having argued Parliament should be recalled now

Gina Miller’s star QC Lord Pannick arrives for the judgment having argued Parliament should be recalled now

Boris Johnson's QC Sir James Eadie told the court last week that the PM's decision to prorogue Parliament was his political right

Boris Johnson’s QC Sir James Eadie told the court last week that the PM’s decision to prorogue Parliament was his political right

He argued that Mr Johnson’s reasons for advising on a suspension of that length ‘were improper in that they were infected with factors inconsistent with the concept of Parliamentary sovereignty’.

But Sir James Eadie QC argued on the Prime Minister’s behalf that the suggestion the prorogation was intended to ‘stymie’ Parliament ahead of Brexit was  ‘untenable’.

brexit countdown_bgCreated with Sketch.

Mrs Miller’s case is supported by former prime minister Sir John Major, shadow attorney general Baroness Chakrabarti, the Scottish and Welsh governments, and Northern Irish victims’ campaigner Raymond McCord.

The justices were also asked by the Westminster Government to allow an appeal against the decision in Scotland.

Documents submitted to the court revealed three possible scenarios in the event the court rules the suspension was unlawful, two of which could see the Prime Minister make a fresh decision to prorogue Parliament.

The other outcome could see the court order Parliament to be recalled.

But Mr Johnson’s lawyers urged the judges to consider the ‘very serious practical consequences’ involved in this option, as it would require a new Queen’s Speech and State Opening of Parliament.

The 11 Supreme Court judges who ruled on the key Brexit case 

Lady Hale, Lord Reed, Lord Carnwath, Lord Lloyd-Jones, Lord Hodge, Lord Wilson, Lady Arden, Lady Black, Lord Sales, Lord Kerr and Lord Kitchin will make the final ruling in the Supreme Court (pictured top left to bottom right)

These are the 11 Supreme Court judges who considered the legal challenges to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament:

– Lady Hale, 74, was appointed the first female president of the Supreme Court in 2017 after a varied career as an academic lawyer, law reformer and judge.

A long-standing champion of diversity in the judiciary, she became the first female justice of the court in October 2009, and was appointed deputy president in June 2013.

During her time as deputy president, Yorkshire-born Lady Hale ruled on numerous high-profile cases, including the Brexit appeal.

– Lord Reed, 63, was appointed deputy president of the Supreme Court in June last year and will replace Lady Hale when she retires in January.

One of the court’s two Scottish justices, he previously served as a judge in Scotland and sometimes sits as a judge at the European Court of Human Rights and the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal.

He was educated at the universities of Edinburgh and Oxford before qualifying as an advocate in Scotland and a barrister in England and Wales.

– Lord Kerr, 71, is the first justice of the court to come from Northern Ireland, where he served as Lord Chief Justice from 2004 to 2009.

Educated at St Colman’s College, Newry, and Queen’s University, Belfast, he was called to the Bar of Northern Ireland in 1970, and to the Bar of England and Wales in 1974.

– Lord Wilson, 74, was appointed in 2009, having previously been a judge in the High Court’s family division and the Court of Appeal.

– Lord Carnwath, 74, studied at Cambridge and was called to the Bar in 1968. He served as Attorney General to the Prince of Wales from 1988 to 1994.

While a judge of the Chancery Division, he was also chairman of the Law Commission and, between 2007 and 2012, was Senior President of Tribunals.

– Lord Hodge, 66, the court’s other Scottish justice, was previously the Scottish judge in Exchequer Causes, one of the Scottish intellectual property judges, a judge in the Lands Valuation Appeal Court and a commercial judge.

– Lady Black, 65, a justice since 2017, carried out a broad range of civil and criminal work during her early career as a barrister before specialising in family law.

She has served as a High Court judge and Lady Justice of Appeal.

Lady Black taught law at Leeds Polytechnic in the 1980s, was a founding author of the definitive guide to family law practice in England and Wales, and continues to serve as a consulting editor.

– Lord Lloyd-Jones, 67, was born and brought up in Pontypridd, South Wales, where his father was a school teacher, and is the court’s first justice to come from Wales.

A Welsh speaker, he was appointed to the High Court in 2005, and acted as adviser to the court in the Pinochet litigation before the House of Lords.

– Lady Arden, 72, who grew up in Liverpool, began her judicial career in 1993 after working as a barrister, QC, and Attorney General of the Duchy of Lancaster.

She became a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2011, and sits as a judge of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

– Lord Kitchin, 64, was called to the Bar in 1977 and his practice covered intellectual property, including patents, trademarks, copyright, designs and trade secrets.

He has also served as a High Court judge and as a Lord Justice of Appeal.

– Lord Sales, 57, is the youngest of the court’s justices and was appointed in January, having worked as a barrister and QC before his appointment to the High Court in 2008.

He was vice-president of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, served as deputy chairman of the Boundary Commission for England and was appointed as a Lord Justice of Appeal.


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