Britain’s Supreme Court will rule on Tuesday whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson acted unlawfully in suspending parliament, in a seismic case that could have profound implications for Brexit and the country’s constitutional foundations.
If the verdict goes against Johnson, it could see parliament rapidly reassemble and would inevitably trigger questions about his position, having unlawfully advised Queen Elizabeth II to suspend parliament.
It would be the latest hammer blow to his plans for taking Britain out of the European Union on October 31, and pile huge pressure on his minority government.
It would also raise questions about whether he could hold out as premier long enough to face a general election, which recent polls suggest he could win with a large majority.
His setbacks in parliament and the courts have so far only increased his polling numbers, burnishing his reputation among those who voted to leave the EU, but his popularity could dwindle if he is blamed for dragging the Queen into the fray.
Whatever the decision, it is likely to provoke frenzied reaction, stoking up tensions in an already divided country.
– ‘Father of lies’ –
Johnson, who took office on July 24, insists suspending parliament was a routine and long-overdue move to launch a fresh legislative programme.
He also told Sky News on Monday that MPs will still have “ample opportunity to debate Brexit”.
His opponents claim he did so to silence opposition to his plans to take Britain out of the EU, with or without a divorce deal with Brussels.
A ruling against the government would also throw a grenade into the country’s opaque constitutional framework, representing a forray by the judiciary into the political arena.
Johnson was called the “father of lies” and accused of destroying parliamentary democracy during last week’s three-day hearing, which heard two conflicting appeals against lower court decisions on the prorogation move.
Scotland’s highest civil court found the suspension was unlawful, but the High Court in England said it was not a matter for judges.
The Supreme Court must therefore decide whether it even has the power to rule on such a case, before coming to any decision on the legality of the move.
David Pannick, representing campaigners appealing against the High Court ruling, argued that judges had the right to decide the proper scope of the prime minister’s power to advise the head of state on shuttering parliament.
“This five-week prorogation has prevented parliament from carrying out its scrutiny functions over the executive over a period of exceptional length… for no rational reason,” he said.
But Advocate General Richard Keen, the British government’s top Scottish legal advisor, said it would see the courts straying into an “ill-defined minefield”.
“This is forbidden territory. It is a matter between the executive and parliament.”
– Biggest constitutional case ‘of century’ –
The 11 judges each express their own view, and have broadly five options.
They could decide it is not a matter for the courts, or decide it is within their scope but that Johnson acted lawfully.
They could rule that he acted unlawfully, but that the period of prorogation was not in itself unreasonable, meaning Johnson could decide to prorogue again in a lawful manner.
If they find he acted unlawfully and that he suspended parliament for an unreasonably long time, he will be obliged to recall parliament.
The court could also decide that because the prorogation was not lawful, it never really happened, meaning parliament remains in session.
“It would be ruling on the basis of general principle, and the general principle is that the government is accountable to parliament,” professor Robert Hazell, from University College London’s Constitution Unit, told AFP.
But even more consequential than the actual prorogation ruling will be the court’s decision on whether political disputes such as this fall within its scope, he added.
If the judges decide they do, it would represent a “big step” in Britain moving away from a “political constitution” towards a “more tightly-regulated legal constitution.”
“This is going to be the biggest constitutional case, certainly of the decade, and possibly of the century,” he said.
Federal Judges Association calls emergency meeting to discuss AG Barr as crisis ‘could not wait’: report
The independent Federal Judges Association will hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss Attorney General Bill Barr's intervention into politically sensitive cases to help President Donald Trump.
Philadelphia U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe, who heads the group, told USA Today the meeting "could not wait."
Rufe was nominated by President George W. Bush.
She said the group called for the meeting after the Department of Justice interference in the prosecution of longtime Trump accomplice Roger Stone.
"There are plenty of issues that we are concerned about,” Rufe said. “We’ll talk all of this through.”
WATCH: CNN justice reporter discusses next steps in Roger Stone case
On Monday's edition of CNN's "The Situation Room," justice correspondent Evan Perez walked through the next steps in the sentencing of President Donald Trump's former campaign strategist Roger Stone, following a week in which the president and the Justice Department appeared to intervene in the case.
"We know that the president's longtime confidant and friend Roger Stone, supposedly he's going to be sentenced later this week," said anchor Wolf Blitzer. "What is the latest we are hearing?"
"The latest is that the judge overseeing this, Amy Berman Jackson, has scheduled a conference call tomorrow to discuss some of the things that went on, and so many things that happened last week, Wolf, including four prosecutors who quit the case," said Perez. "She has yet to even acknowledge the fact that those four prosecutors are no longer there. So, for now, it appears he is going to be sentenced this week, and he has requested twice for the judge to declare a new trial, and we don't expect it is going to happen, and certainly, tomorrow, we will get to the first indication of her reaction to what went on at the Justice Department last week."
Americans arrive home from virus-infected cruise ship
More than 300 Americans rescued from a cruise ship quarantined off Japan because of the new coronavirus arrived back in the US Monday for two more weeks of medical seclusion, as concern rose over passengers who dispersed around the globe after leaving another ship in Cambodia.
The COVID-19 virus death toll exceeds 1,700 in China, where it has infected more than 70,500. Elsewhere, hundreds more have been infected and the virus has sparked panic buying, economic jitters as well as the cancellation of high-profile sporting and cultural events.