Bet you thought that, with parliament suspended for a few weeks, you wouldn’t have to try and get your head round complicated politics story for a while. Think again.
The House of Commons might be shut down – but the Brexit drama has simply shifted to the Supreme Court. If you didn’t already know, judges in the Supreme Court – the highest court in the UK – are in the process of deciding whether Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend (or ‘prorogue’ if you’re fancy) parliament was lawful or not.
The 11 Supreme Court justices are hearing appeals from two separate cases after a challenge in the High Court in London failed, while a court in Scotland ruled the prime minister’s decision was unlawful.
Tuesday marked the first day of the hearing, with the Supreme Court’s live stream being accessed 4.4 million times on the first morning. If you weren’t one of those eagerly logging on to hear every legal argument (and really, who could blame you?), never fear – here’s a round-up of all the important bits.
What Gina Miller Had To Say
First up in court was Lord Pannick, who was representing Gina Miller. Her High Court challenge against Johnson’s suspension of parliament failed earlier this month – now she is appealing the decision in the Supreme Court.
Pannick told the court: “The exceptional length of the prorogation in this case is strong evidence that the prime minister’s motive was to silence parliament for that (five-week) period because he sees parliament as an obstacle to the furtherance of his political aims.”
“No prime minister has abused his power in the manner in which we allege in at least the last 50 years,” he said.
If Johnson was trying to do anything other than avoid parliamentary scrutiny, he would have advised the Queen to allow a much shorter suspension “as has occurred on every occasion… in the last 40 years,” Pannick said.
Meanwhile, the QC said it was “remarkable” that the prime minister had not given a witness statement to the court about why he advised the Queen to suspend parliament for five weeks.
What The Government Had To Say
After lunch, Lord Keen – who was effectively representing the prime minister – challenged the ruling given in the Court of Session in Edinburgh.
The court ruled last week that Johnson’s advice to the Queen was unlawful because it was “motivated by the improper purpose of stymying Parliament”.
Importantly, Lord Keen said Johnson will comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling if it concludes his advice to the Queen was unlawful.
However, he refused to rule out the possibility that Johnson may advise the Queen to prorogue parliament for a second time.
When asked by Lord Kerr what would happen if the court rules that the prorogation was unlawful, and whether parliament would be recalled, he replied: “It will be then for the prime minister to address the consequences of that declaration.”
Lord Keen added: “I have given a very clear undertaking that the prime minister will respond by all necessary means to any declaration that the … prorogation was effected by any unlawful advice that he may have given.”
When Lord Kerr asked if it could be taken that the prorogation decision could not be made a second time, Lord Keen replied: “I’m not in a position to comment on that.
“That will have to be addressed by the decision maker.”
Lord Keen added: “If the court finds it was unlawful, the prime minister will take the necessary steps to comply with any declaration made by the court.”
The Funny Bits
In such a high-pressure situation, you just knew there was going to be some kind of Supreme Court gaffe. In this case, it was a ‘bundle blunder’ – the page numbers on the evidence referenced by Gina Miller’s lawyer didn’t quite match up to the ones held by the judges.
Toe-curling stuff that left everyone involved doing desperate mental maths to work out which page they should be looking at.
Even if you don’t find court admin slip-ups *hilarious*, there was plenty of banter on Twitter to keep you amused – particularly the #SupremeCourtFacts trend. (I heard they don’t wear wigs in the Supreme Court because of an infamous outbreak of nits...)
As is standard in this political climate, there were, of course, protests outside of the Supreme Court as justices heard the appeals.
But unlike most protests, a man came dressed as… Robocop?
“Robocop, he stood for the rule of law in a kind of dystopian future where there was corruption rife across the police and the corporations,” 35-year-old Charlie Rome told the Press Association.
“I think it’s quite fitting at this quite worrying juncture in our parliamentary democracy.”
Rome continued: “We don’t have a written constitution and everything is done by precedent, so I think it’s dangerous because it sets a precedent.”
But he added: “The irony of being in a tin foil hat is not lost on me!”
Another protester arrived dressed as a mash-up between Boris Johnson and the Incredible Hulk. 2019, eh?