Tag Archives: European Communities Act 1972

Reflections on the ‘Three Knights Opinion’ and Article 50 TEU

By Miss Rosie Slowe LLM, Research Collaborator (University of Bristol Law School).

On 17 February 2017, Bindmans LLP published an Opinion that it had solicited from several leading authorities on EU law concerning Article 50 TEU. The so-dubbed ‘Three Knights Opinion’ put forward compelling legal arguments in support of why an Act of Parliament at the end of the Article 50 negotiation process is necessary in order to ensure that Brexit occurs in accordance with domestic and, by extension, EU law. These contentions, and Professor Elliot’s rebuttal, warrant careful consideration, not least because of the constitutional significance they pose.

The Opinion was asked to address three questions: whether it was a ‘constitutional requirement’, within the meaning of Article 50(1), that Parliament authorise the final terms of any deal reached with the EU; whether the UK is able to validly notify its intention to withdraw from the EU, pursuant to Article 50(2), subject to such a requirement; and the legal consequences if that requirement is not satisfied. It is submitted, for reasons that will become apparent, that the latter question of consequence is effectively answered by examining the possibility of conditionality being attached to notice under Article 50, and this post accordingly considers the two issues together. Continue reading

Law and Politics in the Supreme Court

By Prof Phil Syrpis, Professor of EU Law (University of Bristol Law School).

By a majority of 8 to 3, the Supreme Court held that in light of the terms and effect of the European Communities Act 1972, ‘the prerogative could not be invoked by ministers to justify giving Notice under Article 50… Ministers require the authority of primary legislation before they can take that course’ (para. 101). Within hours, the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill,[1]  authorising the Prime Minister to trigger Article 50, was published. It passed through the House of Commons unscathed yesterday. A White Paper, setting out the Government’s plan for Brexit, such as it is, has also been published.[2]

The purpose of this post is very specific. My aim is not to analyse the judgment, the Bill or the White Paper. That has been done elsewhere. Instead, my aim is to begin to explore the relationship between law and politics, and between Parliament, the executive and the judiciary, taking as a starting point the judgments in the Supreme Court. The judges are, at times, careful not to trespass into the political realm. Nevertheless, their findings are informed and influenced, in a number of ways, by the political context. There are, moreover, important differences between the approaches adopted by the majority and the minority, including differences relating to the judges’ understanding of the legal process of Brexit.

It is hoped that inconsistencies between and within the judgments will provoke further academic consideration of the extent to which Courts should intrude into, or take cognisance of, the political realm; and of the extent to which constitutional safeguards are matters of substance or form. But, at this febrile political time, the clearest conclusion is that by failing to answer key questions of law, the Court has done a disservice to Parliament, thereby contributing, not towards the provision of a clear framework within which politicians are able to address the realities of Brexit, but to the pervasive sense of confusion. Continue reading

Brexit and Parliament: Doubting John Finnis’s Dualism

By Prof Julian Rivers, Professor of Jurisprudence (University of Bristol Law School).

© Nick Weall

© Nick Weall

The news that the appeal will be heard by a full panel of 11 Justices of the Supreme Court confirms that the High Court’s ‘Brexit Judgment’ is of the highest constitutional significance. So the attention devoted to the judgment by eminent constitutional lawyers is hardly surprising. One powerful argument against the judgment, which is attracting a growing number of supporters, is made by Professor John Finnis in papers for the Judicial Power Project.

Finnis argues that the court mistakenly assumes that EU rights are ‘statutory rights enacted by Parliament’. On his view, the European Communities Act 1972 simply provides a means for making EU law rights enforceable in English law; they are not ‘statutory rights’ as such. Finnis draws an analogy with double-tax treaties. These serve to relieve individuals with connections to more than one country from being taxed twice on the same income. In order for this to apply, both state parties must maintain the international agreement. If one of them gives notice to rescind, as they are typically entitled to do under the treaty, the immunity lapses. In dualist systems such as the UK, there is thus an asymmetry between the creation and removal of rights. There are two conditions precedent for the enjoyment of any new right: an international treaty conferring that right, and an Act of Parliament giving effect to that treaty in domestic law. Both elements are needed to create the right, but if either condition precedent fails, so does the right. The mere fact that Parliament has to provide the domestic conduit does not stop the Government from turning off the international tap.

I am not convinced that this argument works in the context of the UK-EU relationship. Continue reading

EU rights as British rights

By Dr Eirik Bjorge, Senior Lecturer in Public International Law (University of Bristol Law School).

eca-1972-imageAccording to a carefully argued contribution by Professor Finnis in the Miller debate, rights under the European Communities Act 1972 ‘are not “statutory rights enacted by Parliament”’; they are only ‘rights under the treaty law we call EU law, as it stands “from time to time”’. Finnis thus purports to have broken the chain of the claimant’s main argument.

In that connection, Finnis considers the somewhat recherché example of taxation treaties and the Taxation (International and Other Provisions) Act 2010 to be a useful analogy. The point of the present contribution is to suggest that a more natural analogy would be the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Like the ECA 1972, the HRA 1998 conditions the legal relationship between citizen and state in an overarching manner and deals with fundamental constitutional rights. There is also particularly instructive judicial authority on the HRA 1998 specifically on question of the nature of its relationship with the international treaty whose obligations it mirrors. Continue reading

Miller: Why the Government should argue that Article 50 is reversible

By Prof Phil Syrpis, Professor of EU Law (University of Bristol Law School).

© PA

© PA

Last week’s judgment in the High Court is a ringing endorsement of the sovereignty of Parliament. It asserts that ‘Parliament can, by enactment of primary legislation, change the law of the land in any way it chooses’ (at [20]). It explains why the ‘subordination of the Crown (ie executive government) to law is the foundation of the rule of law in the United Kingdom’ (at [26]), including references to the bedrock of the UK’s Constitution, the Glorious Revolution, the Bill of Rights, and constitutional jurist AV Dicey’s An Introduction to the Law of the Constitution. The Crown has broad powers on the international plane, for example to make and unmake treaties, but as a matter of English law, these powers reach their limits where domestic law rights are affected. EU law, by virtue of the European Communities Act 1972 (described again as a constitutional statute), does indeed have direct effect in domestic law. As a result of the fact that the decision to withdraw from the European Union would have a direct bearing on various categories of rights outlined in the judgment (at [57]-[61]), the Crown cannot, without the approval of Parliament, give notice under Article 50.  Continue reading