September 6, 2019 / 9:22 AM / a month ago

Factbox: UK government ensnared in court battles over suspending parliament

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament for more than a month before Brexit is being challenged in three court cases that are being heard in court this week.

Flags flutter outside the Houses of Parliament, in London, Britain, September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Johnson announced last week that he will suspend the British parliament from mid-September to mid-October ahead of an Oct. 31 Brexit deadline, enraging his opponents and raising the stakes in the country’s deepest political crisis in decades.

Robert Blackburn, a professor of constitutional law at King’s College university in London, said the cases are likely to be combined and the Supreme Court could overturn the decision to suspend parliament.

“The legal challenges, if the courts accept the applications for judicial review as legitimate for trial, are certain to be combined and go all the way to the Supreme Court,” he said. “The Supreme Court could quash and/or declare unlawful” the order.

The government has said its actions are in line with the convention by which a new prime minister briefly suspends parliament before announcing a new legislative programme.

GINA MILLER

Gina Miller, the campaigner who mounted a successful legal challenge to Prime Minister Theresa May’s government over its authority to leave the EU without a vote in parliament, is seeking a judicial review of prorogation. The case was heard on Thursday, with a decision due on Friday.

London’s High Court was told on Thursday that Johnson abused his powers by ordering the suspension of parliament from next week.

Miller said she had received legal correspondence from government legal officers stating that the issue of prorogation was of no more than “academic” interest.

She said this now proved that Johnson has misled the nation and described suspending parliament as a “cynical and cowardly” move.

Former British Prime Minister John Major has joined the legal case. He has previously accused Johnson of hypocrisy for backing Brexit to secure more power for parliament, only to propose to sideline lawmakers when it suited him.

SCOTTISH COURT

A group of about 70 lawmakers from opposition parties have backed a bid to have Scotland’s highest civil court rule that Johnson cannot suspend, parliament before Britain leaves the European Union on Oct. 31.

They launched their challenge before Queen Elizabeth agreed to the government’s request for a suspension.

On Wednesday, the Scottish court ruled that Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament was lawful, saying the matter was not one for judges to decide.

The lawmakers are appealing that verdict. The appeal began on Thursday and continues on Friday. Scottish National Party lawmaker Joanna Cherry said that the appellants had asked for interim remedies to prevent prorogation pending a final decision in the case.

The case is being led by Jolyon Maugham, a lawyer who successful won a case filed with the European Union’s top court which ruled that Britain can reverse the Brexit process if it chooses to do so before it leaves the bloc.

NORTHERN IRISH COURT

A legal bid to force Johnson to reverse his plans to suspend Parliament launched in Belfast will be heard on Friday (Sept. 6).

The case has been taken by Raymond McCord, a rights activist who also launched a 2016 challenge to block Britain’s exit from the European Union. He said he fears a no-deal Brexit could wreck the Northern Ireland peace process.

The action is part of a wider legal action already launched by McCord against any withdrawal from the EU without a deal.

His legal team have argued in court that a no-deal Brexit would breach the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and that the use of prorogation was unconstitutional and a threat to the Northern Ireland peace process.

Reporting by Andrew MacAskill, William James, Alistair Smout and Ian Graham; editing by Guy Faulconbridge

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