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Consequences of the High Court’s Reasoning in the Article 50 Judgment: EU Law-making Unlawful

Originally published on the U.K. Const. L. Blog, 18 November 2016

Introduction

In its judgment in Miller (the Article 50 litigation), the High Court had no doubts that it was defending constitutional orthodoxy. The issue at stake was that of the limits of executive action in the international sphere when this has consequences in UK law. The Court relied on the principle that the crown cannot change law without statutory authority. John Finnis, David Feldman, as well as Mark Elliott and Hayley Hooper argued that the Court erred by an over-broad reading of the principle and in its application. Finnis framed his argument using an analogy between withdrawing from a double-taxation treaty and withdrawing from the EU Treaties. However, some may have a worry that the analogy fails because EU law has a sufficiently special status in UK law or for some more technical reason.

I show here that even if that is the case, there is another class of executive actions rendered unlawful if one accepts the High Court’s reasoning in Miller. I am referring to voting by UK ministers in the EU Council in favour of EU secondary legislation that diminishes any individual rights derived from UK or EU law. It is difficult to assess exactly how many times, on this argument, UK ministers broke UK constitutional law since the UK joined the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973. What is not difficult to see is how staggeringly surprising is the conclusion that such law-breaking has been taking place. I neither criticise nor defend this conclusion here. My ambition is merely to develop the argument for it, applying faithfully the logic adopted by the High Court.

The Supreme Court Should Not Refer to the EU Court of Justice on Article 50

Originally published on the U.K. Const. L. Blog, November 11, 2016

One of the most discussed aspects of the forthcoming appeal in the Article 50 litigation is the issue whether the Supreme Court should make a reference to the Court of Justice of the European Union. George Peretz QC and professor Mike Wienbracke argued that it should not (or at least will not), whereas Richard Lang and professor Daniel Sarmiento argued that it should. There are, however, two arguments for why the Supreme Court should not make the reference that have not yet received adequate attention. First, establishing whether an Article 50 notification is revocable is not necessary for the Supreme Court to decide the case because the claimants ought to lose even if it is irrevocable (and not merely because both parties stipulated irrevocability). Second, even if the first argument is wrong and the case does turn on revocability, it is still the case that no UK court has a legal power to make a reference to the EU Court, because the European Communities Act 1972 does not incorporate EU law that purports to regulate withdrawal from the EU.

Na czym opiera się rządowy argument w sprawie Trybunału?

Od prawie roku zadaję sobie pytanie: na czym opiera się rządowy (i prezydencki) argument w sprawie Trybunału Konstytucyjnego? Innymi słowy: jaki jest ‘rdzeń’ (prawny, nie polityczny) sporu, który toczy się od ostatnich wyborów? Zadaje to pytanie publicznie w nadziei, że być może ktoś będzie w stanie mi pomóc i to wyjaśnić. Niestety nie czyni tego najnowszy dokument ‘w sprawie’, czyli Stanowisko Polski w sprawie zaleceń Komisji Europejskiej.

What is the Government really arguing in the Article 50 litigation? A response to Mark Elliott

Originally published by the Judicial Power Project, October 5, 2016

The litigation on the lawfulness of any Government notification of a decision to leave the European Union without specific prior authorisation in an Act of Parliament is of high legal and political significance. It is therefore right that the submissions of the parties to that litigation are being publicly discussed, with the Government’s skeleton argument receiving most attention so far. Mark Elliott published an insightful and, to a large extent, critical comment. I believe that Elliott’s critique of the Government’s chief argument partially relies on an uncharitable interpretation of the skeleton argument and that in fact the Government’s submission is stronger than Elliott suggests. However, the Government can be criticised for not elucidating their points much more clearly.

Does EU Law Bind Parliament as to Withdrawal from the EU? British Expats and Their Right to Vote (Shindler)
Originally published on the UK Constitutional Law Blog (16 June 2016). With the Brexit referendum quickly approaching, the courts were confronted with an EU law challenge against a provision of the European Union Referendum Act 2015 (‘the 2015 Act’) that, by incorporating the scope of the franchise for a general election, excluded from the franchise those British citizens who are resident abroad and were not registered to vote in the past 15 years.
TK contra Sejm: rozłam w system prawnym? Czy mamy polski Harris v Dönges?

Trybunał Konstytucyjny stwierdził (K 47/15) niezgodność z Konstytucją ostatniej nowelizacji Ustawy o Trybunale Konstytucyjnym (‘Nowelizacja’). Obóz rządzący utrzymuje, że wyrok TK jest nieważny, w szczególności ze względu na naruszenie procedury (wprowadzonej przez tę samą nowelizację, którą TK uznał za niekonstytucyjną). Można się w związku z tym spodziewać, że TK będzie kontynuował orzekanie z ‘pogwałceniem’ niekonstytucyjnej Nowelizacji, co zmusi obóz rządzący do uznania przyszłego orzecznictwa TK za bezprawne. Jest prawdopodobne, że inne sądy uznają legalność działań TK, wbrew obozowi rządzącemu. Czy oznaczać będzie to ‘rozłam’ w systemie prawnym? W skrócie: nie.

Dla teoretyka prawa obecna sytuacja w Polsce stanowi fascynujący materiał do refleksji. Naturalnie, tego typu konflikt nie jest niczym nowym w historii prawa. Teoretycy i konstytucjonaliści, jak HLA Hart czy Hans Kelsen, rozważali od dawna podobne przypadki. Nie jest moim celem, by przedstawić tutaj debatę na temat rewolucji i ciągłości systemów prawnych w całej jej zawiłości. Ograniczę się do pokazania analogii K 47/15 z głośną południowa-afrykańską sprawą Harris v Dönges z 1952 r. oraz do zarysowania teoretycznego argumentu dlaczego w żadnym z tych przypadków nie miał (nie ma) miejsca rozłam w systemie prawnym.

Report: ‘Constitutional Change in New Zealand (and a Bill of Rights for Britain?)’

Originally published on the OxHRH Blog, 25 February 2016

On 17 February 2016, Oxford’s Programme for the Foundations of Law and Constitutional Government hosted a talk by Sir Geoffrey Palmer, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Minister of Justice and President of the Law Commission. The talk and the subsequent discussion were devoted to the issue of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (‘NZBORA’) and Sir Geoffrey’s proposal for major constitutional change in New Zealand. In his comment, Professor Richard Ekins noted both the historical links between the NZBORA and the United Kingdom Human Rights Act 1998 (‘HRA’) and drew on the New Zealand experience to suggest a modest proposal for a reform of the HRA.

Limits of the Domestic Judicial Power to Disregard EU Law – Chester in Reverse

Originally published on the U.K. Const. L. Blog, February 24, 2016

Domestic courts in the United Kingdom have a power (and a duty) to disregard EU law when it exceeds the scope of incorporation by the European Communities Act 1972. It is for UK courts to determine whether any particular measure is within the scope of incorporation or not. The contrary view on this matter, taken by the Court of Justice of the European Union (from the perspective of EU law), does not affect this conclusion. This, in brief, is the argument I advance in a new paper. However, given the current Government’s designs – in my view not strictly necessary – to affirm that UK courts have such a power, even those who disagree with my starting point should be interested in the proper scope of the domestic judicial power to disregard EU law and whether the law as it is now already provides limitations on that power. I believe that it does. At least part of the answer has been suggested by Lord Mance in Chester (in a somewhat different context) and this is an analogy that I will explore.

O wstrzemięźliwości Trybunału Konstytucyjnego w sprawie o wyborze sędziów TK

Jak się dziś dowiedzieliśmy, Trybunał Konstytucyjny umorzył postępowanie w sprawie z wniosku grupy posłów PO o zbadanie konstytucyjności dziesięciu uchwał Sejmu: pięciu (z 25 listopada 2015 r.) deklarujących nieważność wyboru sędziów TK przez Sejm poprzedniej kadencji oraz pięciu (z 2 grudnia 2015 r.) o wyborze nowych sędziów TK. Postanowienie TK (U 8/15), którego lekturę polecam, jest przekonywające. Zgłoszone głosy odrębne (w tym głos Prezesa TK, sędziego Andrzeja Rzeplińskiego), mówiąc oględnie, przekonywające nie są. Muszę przyznać, że jestem pozytywnie zaskoczony zarówno treścią Postanowienia, jak i samym faktem, że siedmiu sędziów TK wykazało się godną podziwu wstrzemięźliwością. Wstrzemięźliwością, która swoiście przystoi urzędowi sędziego. Wstrzemięźliwością, która uzasadnienie znajduje w tym, że władza sądów ma prawne granice oraz że brak ustrojowej nadrzędności Sejmu nie pociąga za sobą nadrzędności sądów.

How many members does the Polish Constitutional Court have?

Originally published on Völkerrechtsblog, 8 January 2016

The Polish Constitutional Court (the ‘Court’) will soon consider the constitutionality of a new statute that regulates the Court’s procedure (case K 47/15). The statute in question, amending the Act on the Constitutional Court, introduced inter alia a novel decision-making procedure and has been criticised as infringing the Court’s constitutionally guaranteed independence. One highly problematic aspect of the new statute is that it aims to disable the Court from using the old procedure to assess the constitutionality of the new procedure. The Court has already opted to proceed notwithstanding the new rules, acting directly on the basis of the Polish Constitution, thus implicitly confirming that it does not view itself bound by the new statutory procedure (or, for that matter, by the old procedure). It will not be possible here to do justice to all the complex issues involved (a longer overview is available here). Hence I will focus on the crucial issues concerning the required quorum and of the number of the Court’s members.