Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Parliament - Judicial Independence - Prorogation

Judiciary- Independence:
On 8 October the House of Commons held a short debate on Judicial Independence - Hansard 8 October - Judiciary: Independence. Robert Neill MP asked the Lord Chancellor (Robert Buckland MP)

"Consistent with the Lord Chancellor’s speech at the opening of legal year, will he confirm that there is no place for political involvement in the appointment of judges and no question but that the rulings of the courts must be observed by all?"

Mr Buckland replied -
"I am more than happy to confirm all those points, made so ably by the Chair of the Justice Committee."

Mr Barry Sheerman MP asked - "Will the Secretary of State today put it on record not only that he believes in the independence of a robust judiciary, but that his Government will obey the law, and not crash us out of the European Union against the law?

Mr Buckland replied - "I can confirm that this Government, like their predecessors and, I hope, successors, will continue to respect and obey the law, and respect the rule of law."

Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC):

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) heard evidence about prorogation of Parliament and the constitutional implications of the Supreme Court's judgment in Miller 2 / Cherry [2019] UKSC 41. The witnesses were -
  • Professor Anne Twomey, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Sydney
  • Professor Richard Ekins, Professor of Law, University of Oxford
  • Professor Paul Craig, Emeritus Professor of English Law, University of Oxford
  • Rt Hon Lord Sumption, former Justice of the Supreme Court (2012-2018)
  • Professor Meg Russell, Director Constitution Unit, University College London

The witnesses were noticeably in agreement that the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 requires review and overhaul. Essentially, the Act was passed by the 2010-15 Coalition Government with a view to keeping that government in place for 5 years but subject to either (a) MPs voting for an early general election - (two-thirds majority required) or (b) a successful vote of no confidence in Her Majesty's government.  The terms of such a Vote of No Confidence are set out in the Act - "That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government."

One of the problems identified with the Act is that it does not deal adequately with what is to happen if the government loses such a vote of no confidence.  The Act allows a 14 day period during which a new government might be formed but it fails to address the issue of whether the Prime Minister is required to resign.

Many other points were taken up during the committee hearing which is well worth watching in full.  Regarding prorogation, it was suggested that reform could come about by either (a) providing that the House of Commons has a right to request return during a prorogation or (b) that there should only be a prorogation if the House of Commons votes in favour. It was also noted by Professor Anne Twomey that prorogation could be replaced by a system of a fixed term divided into sessions with clearly set out times when it would not be sitting.

Other PACAC inquiries:

The Committee has conducted a number of other inquires into matters of constitutional importance - see the full list.  The following are of particular note at the present time -

Parliament - Saturday sitting:

Plans are being put forward for the House of Commons to sit on Saturday 19 October following the European Council meeting to be held on 17-18 October - BBC News 9 October. The House of Commons has only sat on four Saturdays since 1939, including on 2 September that year, due to the outbreak of World War Two. The last time there was a Saturday sitting was 3 April 1982, due to the invasion of the Falkland Islands.

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