is an investment manager and philanthropist
Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament is an unlawful abuse of power, lawyers representing businesswoman Gina Miller have said.
Outlining her case against prorogation at the High Court in London, Lord Pannick QC said it breached the legal principle of Parliamentary sovereignty.
He added that a five-week suspension was of “exceptional length”, saying in most cases it was for a week or less.
A similar challenge at Edinburgh’s Court of Session failed on Wednesday.
In 2017, Gina Miller won a case which stopped ministers triggering the Article 50 process – by which the UK leaves the EU – without a vote in parliament.
The prime minister announced on 28 August he wanted the five-week shutdown – a process known as prorogation – to start next week.
This means MPs and peers will not return to parliament until 14 October for the Queen’s Speech, when Mr Johnson says he will outline his “exciting agenda” for the new term.
The latest case from Ms Miller – to challenge the legality of the prorogation – is being heard by the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett and two other leading judges.
The court will first have to decide whether to hear the case before moving on to a full hearing to consider the main arguments of the case.is part of the case, alongside Ms Miller and Sir John
Opening the preliminary hearing, Lord Pannick said Mr Johnson saw Parliament as a “threat to the implementation of his policies”, in particular whether a deal could be made with the EU.
He said the reason given by Mr Johnson for suspending Parliament – to introduce a new programme of legislation – did not require a five-week suspension.
He also said that, in his submission, the prime minister “has been very clear” that he viewed Parliament as a “nuisance” and a “detriment”.
He pointed to a note in Mr Johnson’s own handwriting which said the whole September session of Parliament was a rigmarole introduced to show the public that MPs were earning their crust – and he saw nothing “especially shocking” about this prorogation.
Lord Pannick argued that this showed Mr Johnson did not understand the role of Parliament in proposing and considering legislation and holding the government to account during “such a critical period”.
He went on to stress that the court was not being asked to express any view about the wisdom of the UK leaving the European Union, nor what action should be taken before 1 November.
“If the prorogation is declared unlawful, it will be entirely for Parliament to decide what to do when it sits during the relevant five weeks.
“Our case is concerned – and only concerned – with issues of law,” he said.
Sir John Major, former Conservative prime minister, was given the go ahead to join her legal action and intervene in the case in writing.
He believes Mr Johnson’s move is aimed at preventing MPs from opposing a no-deal Brexit.
Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC, who is Scotland’s senior law officer, the Welsh government and shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti have also been given permission to intervene in writing.
It is not possible to mount a legal challenge to the Queen’s approval of the suspension but Sir John and Ms Miller believe they can legally challenge the advice the Queen’s prime minister gives her.
What other legal challenges are taking place?
In Scotland, a group of politicians will attempt to overturn a court ruling made on Wednesday that Mr Johnson’s plan to shut down parliament ahead of Brexit is, in fact, legal.
Lord Doherty, sitting at the Court of Session, said the prime minister had not broken any laws by asking the Queen to suspend Parliament for five weeks.
It was for Parliament and the electorate to judge the prime minister’s actions – not the courts, he said.
The MPs and peers behind the legal challenge immediately appealed against his ruling.
Their appeal will be heard by three judges at the Inner House later, with a ruling expected on Friday.
The group of more than 70 largely pro-Remain politicians, headed by SNP MP Joanna Cherry, argue that Mr Johnson is exceeding his powers and attempting to undermine democracy by avoiding parliamentary scrutiny before the UK leaves the EU on 31 October.
After Lord Doherty’s ruling, a UK government spokesman said: “We welcome the court’s decision and hope that those seeking to use the judiciary to frustrate the government take note and withdraw their cases.”
In Belfast, a campaigner for victims of the Troubles is bringing a case arguing that no-deal could jeopardise the Northern Ireland peace process.
Raymond McCord – whose son was murdered by the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force in 1997 – is strongly opposed to Brexit.
His lawyers argue that no-deal would breach legislation which safeguards the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, widely seen as ending the conflict in Northern Ireland.
The case has been fast-tracked because of events at Westminster. A review will be held later, with a hearing in the Northern Ireland High Court scheduled for Friday.
Prorogation in a nutshell
Parliament is normally suspended – or prorogued – for a short period before a new session begins. It is done by the Queen, on the advice of the prime minister.
Parliamentary sessions normally last a year, but the current one has been going on for more than two years – ever since the June 2017 election.
When Parliament is prorogued, no debates and votes are held – and most laws that haven’t completed their passage through Parliament die a death.
This is different to “dissolving” Parliament – where all MPs give up their seats to campaign in a general election.
The last two times Parliament was suspended for a Queen’s Speech that was not after a general election the closures lasted for four and 13 working days respectively.
If this prorogation happens as expected, it will see Parliament closed for 23 working days.
MPs have to approve recess dates, but they cannot block prorogation.