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. (more…)
By Dr Eirik Bjorge, Senior Lecturer in Public International Law (University of Bristol Law School).
According 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. (more…)
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 ). 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 ), 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 -), the Crown cannot, without the approval of Parliament, give notice under Article 50. (more…)