Johnson Turning ‘Constitutional Norms on their Head,’ Foes Say

(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to suspend Parliament “turns the U.K.’s constitutional norms on their head,” his opponents argued at the start of their attempt to block prorogation in a London court.

Johnson, who fended off a challenge to his plan to suspend Parliament in an Edinburgh court, is facing a legal action in London on Thursday, where a trio of senior English judges are hearing a review of his controversial move. The case was brought by businesswoman Gina Miller and former Prime Minister John Major, who will argue that bypassing lawmakers is an abuse of the government’s power.

The lawsuits -- along with similar cases in Scotland and Northern Ireland -- came as the Labour Party and Tory rebels voted to take control of the legislative agenda and hold off a quick general election because of the threat that debate in Westminster would be curtailed. As it stands, the suspension of Parliament is set to last from Sept. 12 until the Queen’s Speech on Oct. 14.

“A judicial review is an attack on whether the reasoning stacks up,” said George Peretz, a public-law attorney who regularly represents the government. “It’s going to be a question of precisely why the government took this decision.”

Miller, who famously won an earlier case against Theresa May that gave Parliament more scrutiny of Brexit, will need to overcome a legal hurdle that has so far stymied the Scottish case. The judge in Edinburgh, Raymond Doherty, questioned the court’s role in the issue because ministers’ advice to the Queen is a matter “involving high polity and political judgment.”

Miller herself acknowledged that a legal challenge to prerogative power was unprecedented. “Nothing like this has ever been tested in court,” she said last month.

In her court filing, Miller said Johnson’s attempt to suspend Parliament -- known as prorogation -- “turns the U.K.’s constitutional norms on their head.”

“By his decision to prorogue Parliament the Prime Minister is asserting the supremacy of the executive over Parliament,” attorney David Pannick said in the filings.

Judges may be wary about getting involved in the business of Parliament, Peretz said.

“This is so desperately political that a judge is going to be careful about this,” he said.

Of the three judges hearing the review, one is Terence Etherton, who was labeled one of the ‘Enemies of People’ in a headline in the Daily Mail tabloid in Miller’s previous case.

In Scotland, a group of more than 70 lawmakers who oppose a no-deal Brexit, had argued that the government’s advice to the Queen to suspend Parliament for as long as five weeks was unconstitutional because it curtailed debate in Westminster.

All three cases will likely end up in front of the U.K. Supreme Court, the highest court in the country. The top judges are currently planning to cut short their traditional summer vacation to review the matter on Sept. 17, five days after the planned suspension comes into effect.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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