August 30, 2019 / 9:50 AM / 16 days ago

Factbox: Government ensnared in court battles over suspending parliament

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament for more than a month before Brexit is being challenged in three court cases that will be heard over the next month.

FILE PHOTO: Flags flutter outside the Houses of Parliament, ahead of a Brexit vote, in London, Britain March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Jacobs/File Photo

Johnson announced on Wednesday that he will suspend the British parliament from mid-September to mid-October ahead of an Oct. 31 Brexit deadline, enraging his opponents and raising the stakes in the country’s deepest political crisis in decades.

Robert Blackburn, a professor of constitutional law at King’s College university in London, said the cases are likely to be combined and the Supreme Court could overturn the decision to suspend parliament.

“The legal challenges, if the courts accept the applications for judicial review as legitimate for trial, are certain to be combined and go all the way to the Supreme Court,” he said. “The Supreme Court could quash and/or declare unlawful” the order.

The government has said its actions are in line with the convention by which a new prime minister briefly suspends parliament before announcing a new legislative programme.

SCOTTISH COURT

A group of about 70 lawmakers from opposition parties have backed a bid to have Scotland’s highest civil court rule that Johnson cannot suspend, parliament before Britain leaves the European Union on Oct. 31.

They launched their challenge before Queen Elizabeth agreed to the government’s request for a suspension.

The case was originally due to be heard next week, but an emergency hearing – seeking the suspension of the order - was granted after the government ordered parliament to be suspended.

The court on Friday rejected an request to place an interim block on Johnson’s order to suspend parliament but indicated it will hear full arguments next week.

The government said it was pleased that a Scottish court had decided not to grant an interim injunction.

The case is being led by Jolyon Maugham, a lawyer who successful won a case filed with the European Union’s top court which ruled that Britain can reverse the Brexit process if it chooses to do so before it leaves the bloc.

NORTHERN IRISH COURT

A legal bid to force Johnson to reverse his plans to suspend Parliament launched in Belfast will be heard on Sept. 6.

The case has been taken by Raymond McCord, a rights activist who also launched a 2016 challenge to block Britain’s exit from the European Union. He said he fears a no-deal Brexit could wreck the Northern Ireland peace process.

The action is part of a wider legal action already launched by McCord against any withdrawal from the EU without a deal.

His legal team have argued in court that a no-deal Brexit would breach the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and that the use of prorogation was unconstitutional and a threat to the Northern Ireland peace process.

GINA MILLER

Gina Miller, the campaigner who mounted a successful legal challenge to Prime Minister Theresa May’s government over its authority to leave the EU without a vote in parliament, is seeking a judicial review. The case will be heard on Sept. 5.

Miller said she had received legal correspondence from government legal officers in the last two weeks stating that the issue of prorogation was of no more than “academic” interest.

She said this now proved that Johnson has misled the nation and described suspending parliament as a “cynical and cowardly” move.

Former British Prime Minister John Major has asked to join the legal case. He has previously accused Johnson of hypocrisy for backing Brexit to secure more power for parliament, only to propose to sideline lawmakers when it suited him.

Reporting by Andrew MacAskill, William James and Ian Graham; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Angus MacSwan

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