The three-day hearing to resolve contradictory judgments made by Scottish and English courts (on the Prime Minister’s decision to prorogue Parliament for five weeks) reaches its finale. Here, Tod Davies looks at The Judgment.
It was the most anticipated Supreme Court Judgment for a generation, or, at least the most publicised and likely the most impactful on our unwritten constitution, our democracy, and potentially our economy (pending what happens next in Parliament).
The result? A drubbing for Boris and his inner council of advisors, whose plans are left in tatters. Not since Cersei walked the steps of the Great Sept of Baelor to public ridicule has a leader endured such shame and embarrassment. The one dishing out the punishment this time? Not the ragged High Sparrow, but Lady Hale, emboldened by an enormous golden spider on her shoulder (literally), who read out the verdict. The advice Boris gave to the Queen, requesting that she prorogue Parliament, was “unlawful, void, and of no effect … this means that when the Royal Commissioners walked into the House of Lords (to announce the prorogation) it was as if they walked in with a blank sheet of paper. Parliament has not been prorogued.” So much for legal jargon. There was no ambiguity here. Judgment day had come for Boris, with no higher court to appeal to, he was caught in the web of Lady Hale’s great golden spider, there was no escape.
The court did fall short of deciding that Boris had prorogued for an improper reason, they didn’t want to get into that political quagmire, but simply said that the prorogation, generally speaking, is unlawful “if it has the effect of frustrating or preventing, without reasonable justification, the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional functions. (…) If the prorogation does have that effect, without reasonable justification, there is no need for the court to consider whether the Prime Minister’s motive or purpose was unlawful.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, they deduced that it did have that effect – and they were critical that no explanation for the prorogation had been put forward by the number 10.
This judgment, remarkable and unexpected in its own right, was accompanied by the equally remarkable and unexpected news that the decision was unanimous. 11 Supreme Court Justices, and the result was 11–0. Not even Man City can hit those numbers.
This Judgment naturally raises the question of what happens next. Will Boris immediately prorogue again? Try again to call a general election? Resign? Questions are also there for what his opponents will be considering next, demand an apology? Demand a resignation? Demand a general election? There is also the interesting prospect of whether Parliament will seek to find Boris in contempt of Parliament – for seeking to obstruct it in performing its duties. This would be yet further unprecedented ground for a Prime Minister.
It was also decided by the Court that it is for the Speakers of the Commons and the Lords to re-open Parliament, which Speaker Bercow has already announced should take place immediately. MPs are currently flocking back into the chamber at the time of writing. No one is sure of Boris’s next move, but let’s hope it’s not on the same level as Cersei, who, like Boris, also saw her enemies amassing in an old building hell bent to condemn her, and she had a certain penchant for wildfire…
Boris will be wishing he could swallow Morpheus’s blue pill right now, and simply wake up from a bizarre dream.