Mark the date Tuesday, January 24th at 9:30 am on your calendars! That is the date on which the United Kingdom’s highest court will deliver its highly anticipated judgment in the appellate case of R (on the application of Miller and another) (Respondents) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Appellant), known more familiarly as the Article 50 Brexit Appeal. The Supreme Court made this announcement via its official Twitter account today, a day after UK Prime Minister Theresa May laid out her 12-point Brexit strategy.
This case is one of the most consequential constitutional cases in recent UK history. The legal question before the Supreme Court is whether the Government has the power to give notice pursuant to Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (Lisbon Treaty) of the UK’s intention to withdraw from the EU, without an authorising Act of Parliament. Or put more simply, is it the executive or the legislature which has the power to decide whether Article 50 is to be triggered. While some Brexiteers have seen the case as an attempt to delay or derail the “inevitable” (i.e. the UK’s leaving of the EU), the Court is not being asked to consider the more political question of whether the UK should leave the EU.
The genesis of this case was a legal challenge brought by investment fund manager Gina Miller and hairdresser, Deir Dos Santos in the High Court against Prime Minister May’s assertion that the Government could use its prerogative powers to make the Article 50 notification without first seeking parliamentary approval. Ms Miller argued that due to the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, a crux of UK constitutional law, only the parliament could make such a determination. Relying primarily on the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, the High Court in its October ruling in R (Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union held that the Government did not have the power under the Royal Prerogative to make the Article 50 notification. The Government swiftly appealed.
In a rare sitting of all eleven justices on the bench, the UK Supreme Court held a four-day (December 4-8) hearing to consider the Government’s appeal against the High Court ruling. The Court’s ruling will be final.
In her major speech on Tuesday before the announcement was made, Mrs. May stuck to her end of March deadline for making the Article 50 notification. However, the feasibility of that deadline will depend on whether the Supreme Court upholds or overturns the High Court’s ruling. If the Supreme Court dismisses the Government’s appeal, a bill would have to be laid and debated in Parliament. Depending on the length and robustness of debate, it may delay the March 2017 deadline Mrs May has insisted upon. The Government is likely to draft a bill which is as simple as possible to reduce the length of time for debate or for amendments.
Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.