Immediately after the decision was released by the UK Supreme Court (UKSC) on September 24th, 2019, the majority who commented said, “Nobody expected this…” Some shouted, “Its unbelievable…shocking….” The reactions themselves, rather than the unanimous ruling of all eleven Supreme Court judges, handed down by Lady Brenda Hale, is what seems to be shocking to many. But in reality, both the nature of the decision and the tremor it has generated, should be shocking to all. These are my reasons.
1. Because politicians have, hitherto, circumvented the law
Until this decision, it had become fashionable for parliament to be used just as a rubber-stamp for the whims of the politicians in power. This did not matter whether that parliament was found in a nation with Parliamentary Democracy (such as the UK, Canada, and etc.) or in a Presidential Democracy (such as the USA, Zambia, and etc.). It was that ardent campaigner and businesswoman’s sentiments that solidified this notion: “It was very nervous up to the moment…there was little guarantee that we would win this,” (Gina Miller). This should shock every democracy lover and Rule of Law agitator. The people had given up on the power of courts or the law to rule. The world had resigned itself to the caprice of politicians to manipulate the law and “abuse” parliament for its own hidden agendas. That’s why people were surprised at the decision.
2. Because abuses of power have, hitherto, been cloaked in divided court decisions
We all know that ruling parties, presidents and Prime Ministers, have been abusing power and running away with it. This has been possible because the auras of people-power have been diminished. In parliamentary systems, prorogation of parliament, or in presidential systems, use of executive emergency orders, have all meant that the will of the people have been secondary. And to add salt to injury, courts had been, hitherto, justifying-chambers of the abuses of the politicians. It’s no wonder everyone did not expect the unanimous decision of the UKSC. Faith in the judiciary all over the world have been slowly eroding, because there has been very little distinction between political quirks and judicial activism. Each time a court rendered a divided decision on a matter that, in the judgement of society, ought to have been unanimous, it made politicians bold. Because, when they partially lost in court, they still argued that some judges stood with them in their abuses of office and authority. That’s why this decision is, ironically, landmark, because it refuses to side with the abuse of power, it decides to stand up for principle, the Rule of Law, and fundamentals of good governance. The decision says, “No-judge agrees with Boris Johnson, in part on or whole.” If there was even a single judge who dissented, Boris Johnson would stand on the world platform and declare that he had at least one ally in the UKSC. That’s how politicians have spun their undemocratic tendencies into placards of lame victory. But as far as the UKSC is concerned, the Prime Minister broke the law, and his decision to prorogue parliament is as if it never even happened!
3. Because even the Queen could be misled
Politicians mislead everybody, in the case of Boris Johnson, including the Queen of England. The UKSC ruled that the decision to advise the Queen to prorogue parliament was unlawful. The Queen had earlier consented to the prorogation of parliament. This is very informing – it means that, hitherto, even venerated offices such as that of the Queen of England, had been subservient to the whims of the ruling politicians. Indeed, we know that the regal bureau is only ceremonial. However, this, effectively, means that democracy had fallen prey to the Tyranny of the Majority and the inviolable power of one-man.
In conclusion, the world has a reason to celebrate this landmark, unanimous UK decision. This is because it’s a UK decision, the birther of the Magna Carta, and the land that bequeathed to Western political and legal cultures, their legal and political systems. At least in the interim, this decision curbs on political extremities of those who rule nations as if they have been given a license to abuse power and privileges.
By Charles Mwewa