The United Kingdom’s supreme court has ruled that Boris Johnson’s advice to the Queen that parliament should be prorogued for five weeks at the height of the Brexit crisis was unlawful.
The judgment from 11 justices on the UK’s highest court follows an emergency three-day hearing last week that exposed fundamental legal differences over interpreting the country’s unwritten constitution.
The first legal question the judges had to resolve was whether the prime minister’s decision – exploiting residual, royal prerogative powers – was “justiciable” and could consequently be subjected to scrutiny by the courts. The English high court declined to intervene; the Scottish appeal court concluded that judges did have legal authority to act.
Lawyers for the Scottish claimants and for the businesswoman and campaigner Gina Miller argued that, in suspending parliament, Johnson was motivated by an “improper purpose” – namely avoiding parliamentary control over his policies. MPs and peers, they urged, should be recalled this week
Government lawyers told the court, which sits in Westminster directly opposite parliament, that the justices should not enter into such a politically sensitive area, which was legally “forbidden territory” and constitutionally “an ill-defined minefield that the courts are not properly equipped to deal with”.
Despite torrential rain, the first members of the public began queueing outside for seats in the supreme court at 5.20am on Tuesday eager to be present for the historic decision.
The decision was read out by Lady Hale, the president of the supreme court. Unusually, none of the parties were provided with advance copies of the judgment due to its extreme sensitivity. Only seven of the 11 justices who heard the case were present in court on Tuesday.