A decision that rocked Britain to its core

The Supremes: State-educated, Lady Hale is the first female president of the UK Supreme Court.

Have the judges gone too far? Eleven judges of the UK Supreme Court have unanimously ruled that Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue Parliament was unlawful. The verdict has split the country.

What happened?

The UK’s Supreme Court ruled that Prime Minister Boris Johnson acted unlawfully when he prorogued Parliament. The move would have stopped MPs from meeting for five crucial weeks in the lead up to 31 October — the date by which Johnson says Britain must leave the EU, with or without a deal.

However, a large number of MPs want to stop a no-deal Brexit at all costs. They argue that, by proroguing parliament, Johnson abused his power to illegally silence MPs.

And all 11 Supreme Court justices agreed.

How unusual was it?

Very unusual indeed.

The Supreme Court has found itself in the middle of a Brexit storm before, when it decided that MPs must approve any deal with the EU. For that, the judges were branded “enemies of the people”.

But this time, the situation was far more extreme: it is the first time in modern history that a Prime Minister has tried to suspend Parliament because MPs do not agree with him.

How powerful is the court?

The UK has three branches of power: the executive (or Government), Parliament and the judiciary.

The Supreme Court is the highest court in the UK. It cannot overrule political decisions, which are left up to the Government and Parliament. It can, however, step in when it thinks the Government is going beyond its legal powers. That is what the justices say happened here.

Long arm of the law

Have the judges gone too far? “Today, a panel of unaccountable lawyers have totally overturned our constitutional order in a desperate attack on the democratic will of 17.4m British voters,” said the Leave.EU campaign group, yesterday. Judges are not elected by the people. What right do they have to decide?

But that is missing the point. The justices are not making a personal, political decision: they are simply applying the letter of the law to the case at hand. They put aside prejudice. It is an important public duty.

You Decide

  1. Do you agree with the justices’ decision?

Activities

  1. Write a definition of the three branches of Government: the legislature, the judiciary and the executive.

Some People Say...

“It is legal because I wish it.”

Louis XIV (1638-1715), longest reigning king in European history

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is the job of the Supreme Court to have the ultimate decision on whether the law is being fairly applied. In order to join the Supreme Court, applicants must have been a High Court judge for at least two years, or a practising lawyer for 15.
What do we not know?
What will happen next. We will find out more when Parliament returns tomorrow.

Word Watch

Prorogued
It is normal to close Parliament for four to five days before the Queen’s speech, when a new parliamentary session stars. However, this suspension was much longer than usual, and it came at an exceptional time in the run-up to Brexit.
Silence
As elected representatives of the people, power ultimately rests with MPs. This principle is known as parliamentary sovereignty.
Enemies of the people
A front-page headline published by The Daily Mail in November 2016, which was widely criticised.
Judiciary
Courts and judges.

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