06:14, September 05 42 0 theguardian.com

2019-09-05 06:14:05
Prorogation of parliament is abuse of power, high court told

The prime minister’s decision to shut down parliament for five weeks at a time of intense political upheaval is an “unlawful abuse of power”, the high court in London has heard.

Boris Johnson’s advice to the Queen to prorogue the session shows that he regards parliament to be an “irrelevance”, David Pannick QC told the court on Thursday.

Pannick, who represents the legal campaigner and businesswoman Gina Miller, was addressing three of the most senior judges in England and Wales at the opening of submissions challenging Johnson’s announcement that parliament should be suspended from next week until 14 October.

On the bench are the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, the Master of the Rolls, Sir Terence Etherton, and the president of the Queen’s bench division, Dame Victoria Sharp.

Prorogation has never lasted longer than three weeks in the past 40 years and in most cases it was only a week or less, Pannick said.

“The prime minister’s decision is an unlawful abuse of power,” he alleged. “It breaches the legal principle of parliamentary sovereignty because the effect of prorogation is to remove the ability of parliament to enact such legislation as it sees fit.

“Prorogation also prevents parliament from performing its other scrutiny functions.”

The prime minister is entitled to decide to end a session of parliament, Pannick explained. “We say that what the prime minister is not entitled to do is to close down parliament for five weeks at such a critical period without justification and when a five-week prorogation is simply not required for the purposes of a Queen’s speech.

“The prime minister simply does not understand the role of the prime minister … What is shocking is that the prime minister does not understand the constitutional functions of parliament.”

Under the UK’s constitution, parliament is sovereign, Pannick said. “This court has the power and the duty to ensure that there’s no abuse of the powers of the prime minister.”

Gina Miller’s application is supported by statements from the former prime minister Sir John Major, the shadow attorney general, Shami Chakrabarti as well as lawyers for the Scottish and Welsh governments. They will be given to the court.

The hearing continues.