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Brexit in the High Court

Brexit in the High Court

Last Tuesday the High Court concluded its hearing of the legal challenge over Brexit. Opponents are fighting to stop Theresa May triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to leave the European Union without a vote from MPs in Westminster. Government lawyers argued before three judges that the Prime Minister is legally entitled to use the royal prerogative to commence Britain’s exit from the EU.

A number of campaigners have mounted legal challenges against the Prime Minister’s strategy for Brexit in what has been described as one of the most important constitutional cases in generations.

At stake is the question of whether the government is within its rights to begin the process of leaving the EU by triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty without the consent and authorisation of Parliament. It was established on both sides that the issue was justiciable, falling within the auspices of the courts to decide upon.

Lord Pannick QC represented the lead challenger, Gina Miller, in the claim. He argued that the inevitable consequence of triggering Article 50 is that statutory rights enjoyed by some UK and EU citizens will be taken away. That can only be done by Parliament, and not by the executive using the crown prerogative.

He contended that there was a direct causal link between the irrevocable triggering of Article 50 and the ultimate stripping away of statutory rights, such as that of UK citizens to stand and vote in European elections, to petition the European Court of Justice and to seek the European Commission’s intervention to uphold competition law.

The Government case, led by attorney general Jeremy Wright, argued that the mandate to trigger Article 50 is clear from the referendum. As Parliament did not take the opportunity to prevent a restriction on the use of royal prerogative for the triggering of Article 50, the executive has the power to trigger as it pleases. He said the “notification – once given – will not be withdrawn. It is our case that Parliament’s consent is not required.”

He told the court that the power to activate Article 50 was a “classic example of the proper and well established use of royal prerogative” with regard to treaty making and breaking.

Sky’s Faisal Islam wrote that “The concerning news for the Government is that the three High Court judges appeared far more sceptical about its case than many had expected. The Lord Chief Justice said twice that their argument ‘baffled’ him. It is entirely plausible that the Government will lose this case, which might come as a shock to Westminster.”

It depends on the three judges. The 582-page transcript of the High Court hearing is a formidable hurdle to a quick ruling. “We shall take time to consider the matter and will give our judgements as quickly as possible,” said Lord Chief Justice John Thomas, Britain’s most senior judge, who has been hearing the case with two other leading justices.

Whichever side loses will almost certainly appeal to the Supreme Court, the UK’s highest judicial body, which will give a final verdict in December.

It is not impossible that the Supreme Court could refer the case to the European Court of Justice. Now that would be ironic.

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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