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Scotland’s highest appeals court has ruled that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suspension of Parliament is illegal, saying the prorogation “was unlawful because it had the purpose of stymying Parliament” ahead of the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline.
The decision by a three-judge panel on the Court of Session will not immediately force the government to allow lawmakers to reconvene — their suspension officially began on Tuesday, and they’re not slated to meet again until Oct. 14.
But the court’s ruling is a victory for Member of Parliament Joanna Cherry of Edinburgh, who led the case, and nearly 80 lawmakers who joined her. And it’s a turnabout from last week, when a single judge — a lord ordinary, in the Scottish system — dismissed Cherry’s original petition.
After the decision was announced, Cherry called for Parliament to be recalled, saying, “now, for every moment Parliament remains prorogued, the British government are breaking the law.”
Noting that the decision was unanimous, Cherry said that in last week’s hearings, she detected “a whiff of bad faith on behalf of Boris Johnson and the British government.”
A central question in the case was whether courts have the ability to review advice that the prime minister gives to the queen — as Johnson did, in asking Queen Elizabeth II to prorogue Parliament. While they seemed to stop short of claiming that power, the Court of Session judges said they can still rule on the advice’s effect.
“The Lord President, Lord Carloway, decided that although advice to HM the Queen on the exercise of the royal prerogative of prorogating Parliament was not reviewable on the normal grounds of judicial review, it would nevertheless be unlawful if its purpose was to stymie parliamentary scrutiny of the executive,” the Judiciary of Scotland said in its summary of the opinion.
In response to the ruling, Scottish First Minister Nicole Sturgeon said, “Today’s Court of Session judgment is of huge constitutional significance — but the immediate political implications are clear. Court says prorogation was unlawful and null and void – so Parliament must be recalled immediately to allow the essential work of scrutiny to continue.”
The judges ruled that from the evidence presented, the long duration of the suspension could only be explained by Johnson’s desire to avoid legislative scrutiny. That contradicts the prime minister’s stated motive for the move — saying that his new government needs the time to lay out its agenda in a speech in the middle of next month.
“Although Johnson claimed he was shutting down Parliament for five weeks to work on his legislative agenda,” NPR’s Frank Langfitt reports from London, “most political observers think he was trying to sideline legislators so they couldn’t block his plan to crash the U.K. out of the European Union without a withdrawal agreement.”
Langfitt adds, “The ruling is yet another blow to Johnson, who has lost every vote he’s called in Parliament.”