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