The Brexit Judgment – “The law of the realm cannot be changed but by Parliament.”

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Sir Edward Coke’s bold assertion in 1605 of one of the cornerstones of the unwritten constitution of the United Kingdom has been upheld today in a hugely important decision by the Supreme Court. In R(Miller) v Secretary of the State for Exiting the European Union [2017] UKSC 5, the Supreme Court today ruled 8-3 that an Act of Parliament was required to authorise ministers to give Notice of the decision of the UK to withdraw from the European Union.  This post focuses on the decisions made in relation to the more legally significant claim that this Article 50 notice could not be given without Parliamentary approval, rather than those made in relation to the devolution claims – although in terms of practical political impact, a ruling that the devolved assemblies had to approve the giving of notice would have been far more disruptive to the Government’s plans.

Lord Neuberger, with whom Lady Hale, and Lords Mance, Kerr, Sumption, Clarke, Wilson and Hodge agreed), gave the judgment for the majority. He introduced the case by putting the issue very simply “The question before this Court concerns the steps which are required as a matter of UK domestic law before the process of leaving the European Union can be initiated.

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You win some, you lose some…Rahmatullah (No.2) in the Supreme Court

iraq-prisoners

In Rahmatullah (No 2) v MOD; Mohammed v MOD [2017] UKSC 1, the Supreme Court gave a further important judgment in the litany of cases arising out of the UK’s intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Court held unanimously that the doctrine of Crown act of state defeated claims brought by non UK citizens seeking to sue the Government in the English courts in respect of alleged torts committed abroad.

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The long arm of the law: Belhaj and Rahmatullah (No.1)

aeroplaneThis blog is the first covering the series of three important judgments given on Tuesday by the Supreme Court on issues arising out of the War on Terror and the United Kingdom’s interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Belhaj and another v Straw and others) and Rahmatullah (No 1) v Ministry of Defence and another [2017] UKSC 3   involved the alleged complicity of United Kingdom officials in allegedly tortious acts of the UK or other states overseas. The torts alleged include unlawful detention and rendition, torture or cruel and inhuman treatment and assault.

The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the Government’s appeals and ruled that the doctrine of state immunity was no bar to the claims, and that the Government and the various officials sued had not, on the assumed facts, shown any entitlement to rely on the doctrine of foreign act of state so as to defeat the claims brought against them.

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Hot Water for Baroness Hale

After the lynch mob of outrage stirred up by the recent Divisional Court ruling on Article 50, it is a brave judge indeed who would say anything in public about the question of whether and how Parliament (i.e. the legislature) needs to approve the notification of the European Council under Article 50 of the UK’s intention to leave the EU.

Baroness Hale was therefore perhaps pushing the envelope of bold courage to make a speech in Malaysia on 7 November and refer to that precise issue before the Supreme Court have heard the case.

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Parliament prevails

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In R (on the application of Gina Miller and Ors) v The Secretary of State for the European Union, the High Court, in a masterly exposition of the principles of constitutional law and statutory interpretation, held that the Secretary of State did not have the power under the Crown’s prerogative to give notice under Article 50 and thereby begin the process under which the United Kingdom will leave the European Union.

Sir Oliver Cromwell said in 1644 “We study the glory of God, and the honour and liberty of parliament, for which we unanimously fight, without seeking our own interests… I profess I could never satisfy myself on the justness of this war, but from the authority of the parliament to maintain itself in its rights; and in this cause I hope to prove myself an honest man and single-hearted.” I suspect that Cromwell will be reading the judgment delivered today and chuckling (if he ever would do something so frivolous) with pleasure at the sight of the High Court roundly defending the sovereignty of Parliament. Continue reading

Duplication in inquests

The Divisional Court in R(Secretary of State) v Her Majesty’s Chief Coroner for Norfolk (British Airline Pilots intervening) – read judgment here – made some potentially noteworthy comments regarding the coronial role and the need to avoid duplicating previous investigations.

The case was largely about whether a Coroner could order disclosure of the transcript and/or recording from a cockpit flight recorder by virtue of her powers under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. HM Senior Coroner for Norfolk was investigating the deaths of four men in a helicopter crash that had previously been investigated by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (the AAIB).

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