September 24, 2019 12.41 pm This story is over 33 months old

Barry Turner: The return of the rule of law

The rule of law has prevailed

The momentous decision of the Supreme Court is now with us during one of the biggest constitutional crises of many decades. As all students of law and constitutional affairs can tell us, in the United Kingdom Parliament is sovereign. Our highest ranking judges have just reaffirmed that after several months of disturbingly unconstitutional and unlawful behaviour by our rogue executive.

There is little doubt that our Brexit-obsessed press will soon be telling us that these privileged elite judges are out of touch with the people and in the pockets of the liberal elites. We may even see yet again the disgraceful headlines calling them enemies of the people. Nothing could be further from the truth, however much the desire to leave the EU dominates your every waking moment.

So once again we recognise the sovereign right of Parliament even over the government. Parliament is our law maker and our government serves the people through it, not through self-interested cabals and ever so slightly venal and self-aggrandising ideologues with their one trick pony political parties.

Our representative democracy has triumphed over demagogues and ideologues.

There has never been any doubt about the strength of our democracy or its legitimacy in its foundations in law. Our democracy, or any democracy, only survives where it is a democracy under the rule of law. Our Supreme Court has acted as a supreme court should in a democracy, enshrining the separation of powers it has upheld the law and Parliament’s right and responsibility to make such law, and put a brake on populist maverick political skulduggery and policy making on the hoof.

Lady Hale, President of the Supreme Court, has made it plain that this ruling does not affect the result of the 2016 referendum. The Supreme Court has not, as our press will soon assert, usurped the will of the British people or obstructed our orderly withdrawal from the EU. This ruling is far, far more important than that. It has rebooted our political system to stop opportunists and those with scant regard for real democracy from usurping our system of democracy. It has by its unanimous decision protected the rights of the British people, not thwarted them.

Had the decision gone the other way, we would have been looking over a very dark precipice indeed. Prorogation could easily have become a political tool to be deployed every time the executive, of whatever political complexion, wanted to sidestep opposition to its grand plans. Those who celebrated Boris Johnson’s ‘bold’ move seemed oblivious to a future maverick PM using the same trick to bring in whatever ideologically driven policy they wished, whatever the consequences. Not for nothing do we use the old cliché ‘be carful what you wish for’.

The rule of law has prevailed. Parliament’s authority is reaffirmed and it can now go back to its business.

It has throughout this sorry tale of Brexit/Remain been a supreme irony that both sides have played the democracy card against the other so many times. It is also a supreme irony that Brexit was supposed to be about restoring British Parliamentary sovereignty, not snatching it from Brussels bureaucrats to hand it to hard-line cabinet ministers and equally sinister and unelected ‘advisors’ contemptuous of Parliamentary democracy itself.

Democracy is only democracy under the rule of law, everything else is mob rule and tyranny of the masses.

We await the knee-jerk reaction from Boris Johnson and we can of course expect it to be boisterous. We should perhaps stop to think in quiet reflection that in contrast the sober deliberations of our most learned judges on the most important day in our democracy’s recent history will still be of supreme influence long after this current gaggle of politicians with their flash in the pan populist sound-bites are long gone.

Barry Turner is a Senior Lecturer in War Reporting and Human Rights and a member of the Royal United Services Institute.