POLITICS

Supreme Court Warns 'Threats Of Violence' In Brexit Case 'Undermines Rule Of Law'

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05/12/2016 11:25 GMT | Updated 05/12/2016 15:50 GMT

Lord Neuberger, the President of the Supreme Court, has warned the “threats of serious violence” that have been made against people who brought the Brexit case “undermines the rule of law”.

Today the government began its Supreme Court appeal to overturn a High Court ruling that Theresa May must seek MPs’ approval to trigger the process of taking Britain out of the European Union.

The government has argued the prime minister has the right to trigger Article 50 - the formal process of Brexit - on her own under prerogative powers.

MPs are highly unlikely to block the referendum result, however parliament may attempt to influence the type of Brexit the UK seeks as well as its timetable.

The 11 Supreme Court justices - a record number to sit on an appeal - will now have their say regarding one of the most important constitutional cases in generations. The verdict is due in January.

Watch the Supreme Court Brexit case LIVE 

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The Lords of the Supreme Court, (back row, left to right) Lord Carnwath, Lord Sumption, Lord Clarke, Lord Kerr, Lord Wilson and Lord Reed, with (front row, left to right) Lady Hale, Lord Hope, Lord Neuberger, Lord Walker and Lord Mance after Lord Neuberger was sworn in as the new President of the Supreme Court in the courts main chamber, in Westminster, central London.

In his opening remarks in the Court today, Lord Neuberger, said some names and addresses of people brought the case should not be revealed for their own safety.

“We have made this order largely because various individuals have received threats of serious violence and unpleasant abuse in emails and other electronic communications,” he said.

“Threatening and abusing people because they are exercising their fundamental right to go to court undermines the rule of law. Anyone who communicates such threats or abuse should be aware that there are legal powers designed to ensure that access to the courts is available to everyone.”

Threatening and abusing people because they are exercising their fundamental right to go to court undermines the rule of law Lord Neuberger

The earlier High Court ruling that the prime minister lacked the power to trigger Article 50 infuriated many Brexiteers.

Arguing the government’s case, Attorney General Jeremy Wright, said the government’s prerogative powers to act on some issues without parliamentary approval did not emerge “on a whim or come out of a blue sky”.

“The country voted to leave the European Union in a referendum provided for by an Act of Parliament,” he said.

“The Government is determined to respect the result of the referendum. The Government’s case is that it does have legal power to trigger Article 50 on the timetable set out by the Prime Minister. We do not believe another Act of Parliament is necessary.”

The case is the most high profile the Supreme Court has heard and has thrust the Justices into the public eye. Lord Neuberger told the Court both sides in the case had made “no objection” to the Justices who will hear the appeal.

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Theresa May wants to overturn the High Court ruling that decided she must ask parliament to vote on Brexit

If the government has to ask parliament to vote on the triggering of Article 50 then it is likely to introduce a bill. Downing Street said this morning Labour and Lib Dem MPs planning to amend any bill, in order to influence the eventual Brexit deal, were trying to “frustrate the will of the British people”.

Labour has said it will not seek to block Brexit but could table amendments to the bill. The Lib Dems have said they will vote against the triggering of Article 50 if there is not a second referendum on the eventual deal.

Shadow Attorney General Baroness Shami Chakrabarti told the BBC’s Today programme that the Supreme Court challenge was not about “judges second guessing the people”.

She added: “This is not about the people versus the judges, if anything it is about the Government, the executive, or parliament... who of those two institutions of the state should be overseeing this matter of triggering Brexit.”

Chakrabarti said it was “incredibly important” that the Supreme Court decision did not lead to criticism of the judges involved like that seen following the High Court decision which led to the Daily Mail referring to one judge as “openly gay”.

“It is incredibly important that we don’t see the kind of scrutiny, verging on vilification, of the judges that we have seen in recent weeks,” she said. 

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