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Supreme Court: Parliament suspended ‘to stop MPs frustrating PM’, judges told

Media captionLIVE: Supreme Court prorogation hearing

Boris Johnson sought to suspend Parliament to avoid the risk of MPs “frustrating or damaging” his Brexit plans, the Supreme Court has heard.

Lawyers for campaigners challenging the suspension said there was “strong evidence” the PM saw MPs “as an obstacle” and wanted to “silence” them.

The judges are hearing two challenges relating to the five-week prorogation.

Lady Hale, President of the Court, stressed the landmark case would have no bearing on the timing of Brexit.

In her opening statement, the most senior judge in the UK said she and her 10 colleagues would endeavour to address the “serious and difficult questions of law” raised by the case.

But she said the court would not determine “wider political questions” relating to the Brexit process and its ruling would have no bearing on “when and how the UK leaves the EU”.

Over the next three days, the Supreme Court will consider two separate legal challenges over whether Boris Johnson acted lawfully in advising the Queen to prorogue Parliament.

Mr Johnson maintains it was right and proper to terminate the last session of Parliament in order to pave the way for a Queen’s Speech on 14 October, when his new government will outline its legislative plans for the next year.

But last week, Edinburgh’s Court of Session found in favour of a cross-party group of politicians challenging the PM’s move, ruling the shutdown was unlawful and “of no effect”,

Scotland’s highest civil court found Mr Johnson’s actions were motivated by the “improper purpose of stymieing Parliament” and he had effectively misled the Queen.

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PA Media

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Top row (from left): Lord Sales, Lady Arden, Lady Black, Lord Kerr, Lord Hodge, Lady Hale. Second row (from left): Lord Kitchin, Lord Lloyd-Jones, Lord Carnwath, Lord Wilson, Lord Reed

But, in a separate case, London’s High Court said prorogation was not a court matter. They rejected a case brought by businesswoman and campaigner Gina Miller, ruling that the suspension of Parliament was a “purely political” move and was therefore “not a matter for the courts”.

The government is now appealing against the ruling in Scotland, while Ms Miller is appealing against London’s High Court judgement.

‘Frustrate policies’

Lord Pannick, the crossbench peer and QC representing Ms Miller, told the Supreme Court on Tuesday it was not the judges’ responsibility to determine the length of time Parliament should have been suspended, as this was a political matter for the government.

However, he said the “exceptional length” of the prorogation was “strong evidence the prime minister’s motive was to silence Parliament because he sees Parliament as an obstacle”.

The facts, he said, showed the PM had advised the Queen to suspend Parliament for five weeks “because he wishes to avoid what he saw as the risk that Parliament, during that period, would take action to frustrate or damage the policies of his government”.

He said the court had a “common law duty” to intervene if the PM has used his power improperly.

“It is being asked to consider the legal question of whether it is within the scope of the power conferred on the prime minister to exercise it for the purpose alleged.”

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Gina Miller is appealing against an earlier ruling which found in favour of the government

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Getty Images

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The court case is expected to last three days

Eleven of the Supreme Court justices – the largest possible panel – are hearing legal arguments from the English and Scottish court cases on Tuesday.

The government’s lawyers will then respond on Wednesday.

BBC legal affairs correspondent Clive Coleman said it was only the second time 11 justices would sit – the first time this happened was in Ms Miller’s successful challenge as to whether the prime minister or Parliament should trigger Article 50 to start the process for leaving the EU.

He added that they would determine whether prorogation was a matter for the courts.

If they decide it is, they will go on to rule definitively on whether Mr Johnson’s true motive in advising the Queen was to undermine MPs’ ability to legislate and respond to events as the country prepares to leave the EU, our correspondent added. 

Media captionThe BBC’s Clive Coleman takes a look inside the UK’s Supreme Court

Opposition parties have called for Parliament to be recalled.

Speaking to BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg ahead of the start of the court case, Mr Johnson said he had the “greatest respect for the judiciary”, and its independence “is one of the glories of the UK”.

“And I think the best thing I can say, having said that, is to wait and see what they say,” he said.

Media captionBoris Johnson: “I have the greatest respect for the judiciary”

On Monday, the prime minister held talks in Luxembourg with EU counterparts and negotiators.

Afterwards, he said the EU had had “a bellyful” of the Brexit process and wanted to get a deal in order to move on to the next phase of talks on future relations.

A UK government source said on Monday the gap the UK and Brussels needed to bridge to achieve a deal on the terms of exit “remains quite large”.

Supreme Court: Parliament suspended ‘to stop MPs frustrating PM’, judges told}

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