Public Law Project statement on the Supreme Court ruling

This morning’s Supreme Court judgment draws on evidence from the Public Law Project (PLP) that prorogation frustrated the ability of Parliament to carry out its constitutional function. 

The court found that the Government did not take account of the impact prorogation would have on the ‘special procedures for scrutinising the delegated legislation necessary to make UK law ready for exit day.’ [para 60]

Today’s ruling should allow MPs more time to scrutinise that legislation through those special procedures. It also means that the five outstanding Brexit bills have not fallen and can continue their progress through Parliament. 

PLP joined the case in order to draw attention to the impact that prorogation would have on the scrutiny of legislation which is vital to the Brexit process and to the Rule of Law. 

Whilst concerns remain as to the time available for adequate legislative scrutiny, the ruling means that fewer statutory instruments (SIs) should need to be made under the urgent procedure, which means they are less likely to become law before they are even debated. The ruling also means there will be more time to debate those SIs which are already before Parliament.

Around 600 SIs have been tabled to ensure that our laws and public bodies are ready for Brexit, from fisheries and agriculture to financial services, trade and medicines. As PLP has pointed out, the Government told the Supreme Court that it planned to lay a further 35 SIs in October 2019 which it considers are necessary for an orderly exit on 31 October, on top of the 63 SIs already awaiting scrutiny.  Parliament now has more time to scrutinise these SIs and to make sure that the Government is acting within its powers.  

PLP’s work has consistently highlighted the importance of scrutinising Brexit SIs and of safeguards to ensure that they conform to public law standards and do not undermine fundamental rights. 

Such safeguards are necessary for an orderly exit from the EU a) to make sure that they serve the purpose Parliament intends and b) because the powers given to Government Ministers to create Brexit related SIs are unprecedented – they include Henry VIII powers which allow Ministers to amend Acts of Parliament themselves, making scrutiny all the more important. 

PLP does not take a position on the UK’s decision to leave the EU. Our work to monitor Brexit SIs reflects concern that they would become a constitutional and legal pressure point and that scrutiny could suffer as a result.  Today’s ruling is a reminder that the Executive is accountable to Parliament.  

PLP would like to thank Thomas de la Mare QC and Daniel Cashman of Blackstone Chambers for their pro bono work on the intervention.

Public Law Project

24 September 2019