More substantive than the 137 word EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017 (‘Notification Act’), which was passed by Parliament on 13 March, the Prime Minister’s 6 page letter of notice, issued under Article 50 TEU, is lacking in one crucial respect. This post asserts that, as a matter of UK constitutional law and in accordance with the EU Treaties as well as customary international law, conditionality should be inferred into this notice. Such conditionality manifests in the requirement of domestic Parliamentary approval at the end of the Article 50 negotiation process.
On Wednesday 29 March, shortly after the UK’s Article 50 notice had been delivered to Donald Tusk, Theresa May told the House of Commons that it was a ‘historic moment from which there can be no turning back’.
That premise is disputed. As a matter of law, it is far from certain that notice issued under Article 50(2) is indeed irrevocable. Further, there are compelling legal arguments as to why such notice can be unilaterally withdrawn once given. The arguments in favour of revocability are difficult to dispute, finding their basis in the UK constitution, EU Treaties and international law.
In the almost three years since the Supreme Court delivered its reasons in Nicklinson (in which a majority refused to issue a declaration that the blanket ban on assisted suicide in s 2(1) of the Suicide Act 1961 was incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’)), similar questions of compatibility concerning analogous bans have been considered by courts in Canada, South Africa and New Zealand. Additionally, California and Colorado have introduced legislation permitting physician-assisted suicide (taking the total to six States in the US which permit physician-assisted suicide), France has introduced legislation enabling patients to request terminal sedation, and Germany’s Federal Administrative Court this month handed down judgment confirming that the right to self-determination encompasses a right of the ‘seriously and incurably ill’ to, in ‘exceptional circumstances’, access narcotics so as to suicide.
Given news of a new challenge by Noel Conway to the compatibility of s 2(1) of the Suicide Act with Article 8 (the application for permission to review was heard by the Divisional Court yesterday with judgment reserved), it is, then, a propitious time to re-examine a particularly dubious aspect of the majority’s reasoning in Nicklinson namely, its characterisation of the declaratory power, not least given the potential for such reasoning to deleteriously affect the new challenge. Continue reading
1) The Situation
“no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well”
Shire’s words are the background to the recent case of C-638/16 X and X. So much was recognized by Advocate General Mengozzi, who concluded his Opinion as follows:
“175. Before concluding, allow me to draw your attention to how much the whole world, in particular here in Europe, was outraged and profoundly moved to see, two years ago, the lifeless body of the young boy Alan, washed up on a beach, after his family had attempted, by means of smugglers and an overcrowded makeshift vessel full of Syrian refugees, to reach, via Turkey, the Greek island of Kos. Of the four family members, only his father survived the capsizing. It is commendable and salutary to be outraged. In the present case, the Court nevertheless has the opportunity to go further, as I invite it to, by enshrining the legal access route to international protection which stems from Article 25(1)(a) of the Visa Code. Make no mistake: it is not because emotion dictates this, but because EU law demands it.” Continue reading
On 17 February 2017, Bindmans LLP published an Opinion solicited from several leading authorities on EU law concerning Article 50 TEU. The so-dubbed ‘Three Knights Opinion’ put forward compelling legal arguments in support of why an Act of Parliament at the end of the Article 50 negotiation process is necessary in order to ensure that Brexit occurs in accordance with domestic and, by extension, EU law. These contentions, and Professor Elliot’s rebuttal, warrant careful consideration.
R (O’Connor) v Aldershot Magistrates’ Court  EWHC 2792 (Admin)
On 20 February 2015 Matthew O’Connor, the Claimant in this judicial review and the founder of the campaign group Fathers4Justice, was due to go on trial at Aldershot Magistrates’ Court for a public order offence. He arrived at court with around ten of his supporters, but when they tried to gain entry to the court building they were prevented from doing so by HMCTS staff. Only the Claimant and his Mackenzie Friend were allowed to enter.
With the Supreme Court having ruled yesterday that Parliament must have a say in the triggering of Article 50 TEU, the ensuing debate regarding the process for exiting the EU will undoubtedly revolve around what is politically considered the most desirable ‘type’ of Brexit, and whether MPs can restrict the government’s negotiation position. This post puts forward the hypothesis that such debates may become irrelevant because, in the event that negotiations fail, the UK has no guaranteed input on the terms of its withdrawal from the EU. At the heart of this problem is the still unanswered question whether an Article 50 notification is revocable.
In R (on the application of Miller and another) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union  UKSC 5, the Supreme Court rejected the government’s appeal and upheld the High Court’s ruling that the royal prerogative cannot be relied on to trigger Article 50 (see yesterday’s post on this blog which summarised the court’s judgment). Rather than reliance on executive power, an Act of Parliament is required to authorise ministers to give notice of the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU. This is based on the premise that such notification under Article 50(2) would inevitably, and unavoidably, have a direct effect on UK citizens’ rights by ultimately withdrawing the UK from the EU. However, this assumption warrants exploration.
R (Woolcock & Bridgend Magistrates Court) v Cardiff Magistrates Court and Bridgend County Council  EWHC 34 (Admin) (judgment awaiting publication)
There is an exceedingly long line of case law, stretching back beyond the days of the community charge (which was of course better known as the Poll Tax). In those cases, the courts have traditionally quashed custodial orders improperly imposed by magistrates for non-payment of council taxes.
Most recently, the legal charity Centre for Criminal Appeals have picked up the reins as part of their work challenging unduly harsh sentencing practices. The case of R(Woolcock & Bridgend Magistrates Court) v Cardiff Magistrates Court and Bridgend County Council, a judicial review claim, is the first of the cases supported by the Centre to reach the High Court, and concerned imprisonment of a woman who had failed to make council tax payments required of her.