A judge in Edinburgh has begun hearing arguments over the prime minister’s plan to shut down the UK Parliament.
A cross-party group of parliamentarians wants a ruling at the Court of Session that Boris Johnson is acting illegally.
The UK government is opposing the move, and argues it acted within its powers by seeking to prorogue Parliament.
The prime minister wants to suspend Parliament for five weeks ahead of a Queen’s Speech on 14 October.
The parliamentarians – headed by SNP MP Joanna Cherry and Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson – lodged their case at the Court of Session at the start of August.
Their lawyer, Aidan O’Neill QC, told the court on Tuesday morning that the prime minister was attempting to hold office and to use power without any accountability to parliament.
He claimed the UK government was showing “breathtaking” contempt for the constitution, and likened it to autocratic rule – is breathtaking. Says this is similar to autocratic rule – the Cabinet wasn’t consulted.
Mr O’Neill said he was seeking an interim interdict – the Scottish equivalent of an injunction – on the proroguing of Parliament.
Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC – Scotland’s top law officer – has been given permission by the judge to take part in the hearing.
Mr Wolffe is expected to argue that the suspension of Parliament prevents scrutiny of the government’s plans and represents an abuse of executive power.
The UK government argues that proroguing Parliament is an exercise which the Queen alone could enter into, and was not a matter for the courts.
Its QC, Roddy Dunlop, has previously cited “classic examples of where the courts would not interfere” on prorogation and dissolving parliament, which he said was an analogous issue.
Mr Dunlop has also argued that there was a clear convention in the Queen following her government’s advice, and there was a weight of evidence to suggest that such conventions were “non justiciable” – not subject to trial in a court of law.
Court of Session case: How we got here
- 22 July – It emerges that a cross-party group of MPs and peers plans legal action to prevent Parliament being “closed down” in the run-up to Brexit
- 13 August – The group go to the Court of Session in Edinburgh and Lord Doherty agrees to hear arguments from both sides in September
- 28 August – The parliamentarians seek an interim interdict to block Boris Johnson’ move to prorogue Parliament
- 29 August – Lord Doherty hears four hours of argument from both sides
- 30 August – The judge refuses an interim interdict but brings the full hearing forward to 3 September.
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.