A Tale of Two Judgments: Scottish Court of Session rules prorogation of Parliament unlawful, but High Court of England and Wales begs to differ
11 September 2019
The Scottish Court of Session (Inner House) today ruled that the Prime Minister’s advice to the Queen to prorogue Parliament was unlawful. The High Court of England and Wales today handed down its judgment on the same issue – and came to the opposite conclusion.
How can these two conflicting judgments be resolved? They can’t, so it’s off to the Supreme Court on 17 September.
Before we delve into the decisions of both courts, a reminder of some of the key issues:
Prorogation: The act of discontinuing a parliamentary session, until the State Opening of Parliament which commences the next session. It is unlike recess, which is a break in the parliamentary session when parliamentary business is merely suspended, and MPs can be more easily recalled if required. It is also unlike dissolution, which occurs before an election and mean that every MP must re-stand for election.
When Parliament is prorogued, all business comes to an end. Bills which remain in progress (i.e which have not become law) lapse and must be restarted when Parliament is re-opened.
The Prime Minister decided on 28 August 2019 to advise the Queen to prorogue Parliament. An Order in Council was made that day by the Queen, effecting the Prorogation. Parliament was prorogued on 9 September 2019, and – as it stands – will not sit again until 14 October 2019.
Justiciability: The concept of a matter being susceptible to, and capable of, review by the courts. ‘Non-justiciability’ encompasses a number of principles. In Shergill v Khaira,  UKSC 33 the Supreme Court has distinguished two categories of non-justiciability, (1) issues with no basis in domestic law and (2) issues in respect of which judicial restraint will be exercised, due to the separation of powers and judicial competence. The latter is in issue in these cases. Political questions, and certain matters involving the exercise of the Royal Prerogative, are often argued (and held) to be beyond the reach of judicial review. Recent decisions show that the concept is not absolute, even with regard to prerogative powers.
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