Number 10 forced to admit judges are not biased after prorogation ruling sparks Tory row

Posted On: 
11th September 2019

Downing Street has been forced to insist it does not believe judges are biased against the Government after a court ruling on the prorogation of Parliament sparked a Tory row.

Campaigners outside the Court of Session following the prorogation ruling.
Credit: 
PA

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland was among the senior Conservative figures who reacted angrily after Number 10 sources appeared to question the impartiality of the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

That came after a panel of three judges at the court said Boris Johnson's decision to prorogue Parliament was illegal and a "tactic to frustrate Parliament" from debating Brexit.

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But a Number 10 source triggered an immediate Tory backlash by telling The Sun: "We note that last week the High Court in London did not rule that prorogation was unlawful. The legal activists choose the Scottish courts for a reason."

In response, Mr Buckland said he had "total confidence" in the judiciary.

"Our judges are renowned around the world for their excellence and impartiality and I have total confidence in their independence in every case," he said.

His predecessor as Justice Secretary, David Gauke, said: "It is neither responsible nor acceptable for 'sources in No 10' to accuse judges of political bias. Criticism of this type from within Government undermines the independence of the judiciary and, therefore, the rule of law."

Gavin Barwell, who was Theresa May's chief of staff when she was Prime Minister, tweeted: "This is a very unwise road for a party that believes in a) the Union and b) the rule of law to go down."

David Lidington, who was Mrs May's deputy, tweeted: "Fully support Robert Buckland on this. Our liberties rely on Rule of Law & independent judiciary."

The comments also drew a backlash from acting Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw, who made clear his "absolute" faith in the nation's judges.

The MSP said: "Let’s be very clear & I don’t much care where the sources are from who might suggest otherwise - we have absolute confidence in the independence and integrity of the Scottish judiciary."

Fellow Conservative MSP Adam Tomkins fumed: "To politicians who don’t like court judgments: don’t attack the judges or the independence of the legal system. Don’t ever do that. Appeal, test your legal arguments in a superior court. Why does this even need saying?"

And Labour's former Lord Chancellor Charlie Falconer called on Mr Johnson to signal his support for the judiciary.

"Once this sewage has started coming out of No 10 only way to counteract it is for PM to make a statement saying he accepts the integrity of the judges in reaching their decision and there was no politics involved," the opposition peer said.

But a Downing Street spokesman said: "We have absolute respect for the independence of the judiciary."

'EGREGIOUS'

The bitter row erupted after the heavy-hitting judgment from the Court of Session, which Mr Johnson had misled the Queen as to the real reasons behind the suspension - thereby making it illegal.

In their damning ruling, Lords Carloway, Brodie and Drummond Young said Mr Johnson's decision was an "egregious case of a clear failure to comply with generally accepted standards of behaviour".

The Government have announced they will appeal the ruling at the UK's Supreme Court next Tuesday.

Responding to the ruling, a government spokesperson said: “We are disappointed by today’s decision, and will appeal to the UK Supreme Court. The UK Government needs to bring forward a strong domestic legislative agenda. Proroguing Parliament is the legal and necessary way of delivering this.”

However, the PM's decision to prorogue Parliament received a boost on Wednesday as the High Court in London released its full judgement explaining why it had turned down a legal challenge to the move launched last week by anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller.

Judges said the challenge was "not capable of being determined by the courts" and pointed out that the "refusal of the courts to review political questions is well-established".

"For all these reasons we concluded that the claim must fail," they said.

"In our view, the decision of the Prime Minister to advise Her Majesty the Queen to prorogue Parliament is not justiciable in Her Majesty’s courts."