As the judiciary is pressured by pro-Brexit forces, Scottish legal scholars fear a threat to the democratic process
ONE of Scotland’s leading advocates has said that the denunciation of the legal process on [Thursday 4 November], that led to the High Court judgement on the role of parliament in deciding if and how we leave the European Union (EU), constitutes a “threat to democracy.”
Paul Reid who is standing junior council for the Scottish Government and a member of the Edinburgh Centre for Constitutional Law and the Faculty of Advocates criticised the negative pressure from UK tabloids and right-wing politicians, placed upon the judges in charge of the decision that activation of Article 50, the formal mechanism by which the UK could exit the EU, could not take place without parliamentary consent.
His comments, made in a personal capacity, come as the UK Government has come under fire by critics for failing to protect the independence of the judiciary.
“But complaints that the process is somehow undemocratic are not only unfounded; they are the true threat to a democracy governed by the rule of law.” Paul Reid
Last week [Thursday 4 November] the High Court passed a judgment that parliamentary sovereignty had to be upheld and that the UK Government could not leave the EU through executive action. The lord chancellor, Liz Truss, came under sharp derision after she stopped short of condemning attacks on senior judges by media outlets and Ukip’s acting leader Nigel Farage. The front page of the Daily Mail labelled the three judges who made the decision “enemies of the people”.
Reid said: “Far from threatening democracy, the judgment (not the result, the judgment) is a vindication of democracy: a small group of private citizens went to the High Court to complain that what the government proposed to do was unlawful; the court heard their case; they heard the government explain why they believed it to be lawful; and the court decided that those individuals were correct.
“That does not threaten democracy; it secures it. Complaints about the outcome are understandable (and that there are complaints is why there is the Supreme Court). But complaints that the process is somehow undemocratic are not only unfounded; they are the true threat to a democracy governed by the rule of law.
“What the High Court has made clear is that no matter how high an office you hold, you are always below the law. That is not a result to be decried; it is a result to be celebrated.”
“Far from threatening democracy, the judgment (not the result, the judgment) is a vindication of democracy.” Paul Reid
The UK voted to leave the EU in June, when a referendum on Britain’s EU membership delivered a shock 52 per cent for Brexit. The UK Government promised that the results of the referendum would be binding. However, the court decision has reasserted the so called ‘primacy of parliament’ as the UKs governing body. Under the decision MPs, who supported a remain vote by around 80 per cent, could have the decisive say on whether Brexit happens and under what circumstances.
The government is set to appeal against the original ruling to the Supreme Court, where all 11 judges are due to hear the case in early December.
Picture courtesy of Chris Beckett
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