Supreme Court: Boris Johnson aimed to silence parliament, court hears

PUBLISHED: 15:19 17 September 2019 | UPDATED: 16:42 17 September 2019

Lord Pannick has told Supreme Court judges that Boris Johnson's aim in proroguing parliament was to silence it. Picture: PA Video

Lord Pannick has told Supreme Court judges that Boris Johnson's aim in proroguing parliament was to silence it. Picture: PA Video

PA Video

Boris Johnson's motive for proroguing parliament for so long was to "silence" parliament, Supreme Court justices have heard.

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Supreme Court justices are considering appeals from two challenges that reached differing rulings on the prime minister's unusually long suspension of parliament.

The judges are being asked to determine whether Johnson's advice to the Queen to prorogue parliament is "justiciable" - capable of challenge in the courts - and, if so, whether it was lawful.

Gina Miller's lawyers have told them that the prime minister's decision was an "unlawful abuse of power".

They added that Johnson has also failed to provide any evidence to explain his decision to the court.

WATCH: Boris Johnson declines to provide witness statement to Supreme Court explaining his prorogation plan

During the historic hearing, Miller's barrister Lord Pannick QC said: "The exceptional length of the prorogation in this case is strong evidence that the prime minister's motive was to silence parliament for that period because he sees parliament as an obstacle to the furtherance of his political aims."

Lord Pannick added that it was a "remarkable feature" of the proceedings that Mr Johnson has not provided a statement explaining why he advised the Queen to suspend parliament for the "exceptionally long period".

The High Court in London initially dismissed Miller's case, saying that it was a "purely political" matter and not a matter for the courts.

But in Edinburgh, the Court of Session concluded that Johnson's decision was unlawful because it was "motivated by the improper purpose" of frustrating parliament.

As the Supreme Court justices consider appeals to both of these conclusions, Lord Pannick argued that the High Court "erred in law" in ruling on Miller's case, and that the Court of Session had reached the correct conclusion about Johnson's motive for proroguing parliament.

The barrister told the court: "Their conclusions, we say, are supported by the prime minister's own public statements as to his concerns as to what parliament may do and the court ... should be prepared in the circumstances to draw an inference from the absence of any evidence on the government's side by way of a witness statement.

"We submit that on all the material the court should conclude that, but for the prime minister's wish to avoid parliamentary control, he would not have recommended to Her Majesty a prorogation for a period of longer than five weeks, but he would have recommended a substantially shorter period ... as had occurred on every occasion ... in the last 40 years."

Lord Pannick said the appeal raises "fundamental questions of constitutional law" and that no court had been asked to consider these issues because no prime minister "has abused his power in the manner in which we allege in at least the last 50 years".

While he accepted the prime minister does have the power to advise the Queen to prorogue parliament, he argued that in these circumstances the length of this suspension amounts to an abuse of power.

He added: "Parliament will be silenced for a substantial part of the period leading up to the deadline of October 31 when issues of grave national importance are being addressed - or not addressed - by the government."

At the outset of the hearing, Supreme Court president Lady Hale emphasised that the justices were not concerned with the "wider political issues" and that the case would only decide if Johnson's advice to the Queen was lawful.

She added: "As will be apparent when we hear the legal arguments, the determination of this legal issue will not determine when and how the UK leaves the European Union."

The court will hear submissions from the parties over the next three days but it is unclear when a ruling will be made.

A crowd of about 40 protesters, holding signs saying "Defend democracy", "Reopen parliament" and "They misled the Queen", gathered outside the court ahead of the hearing.

Among them was a man dressed as Robocop and another calling himself the "Incredible Sulk" - wearing a blond wig with an Incredible Hulk costume - who was inspired by Johnson's recent reference to the Marvel character.

Supporters of Miller cheered and shouted "Bravo Gina Miller" as the businesswoman and campaigner arrived at court.

Ahead of the hearing, Miller described the prorogation decision as "a classic power-grab".

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