Talking Politics

The Editors

In the new episode of the Talking Politics podcast, David Runciman, Helen Thompson, Catherine Barnard and Chris Bickerton ask what’s at stake in the prorogation case at the Supreme Court:

‘There’s supposed to be a political control over how the executive uses its power, and that comes through the House of Commons and ultimately the electorate. We don’t have a constitution that’s based on the idea that the only recourse that there is to the abuse of power is legal. In fact, we have a constitution that’s based on the idea that the recourse for the abuse of power is supposed to be political. And I would say that if we end up with the Supreme Court saying that this is justiciable, and finds that Johnson used the proroguing power illegally, we’re going to have departed into completely new constitutional territory where the role of the judiciary is concerned, at the very same time that we’ve departed into completely new constitutional territory where we have an executive that has not got the confidence in any shape or form of the House of Commons. We have an executive that has a minus 45 majority, this executive should not exist any longer, it’s in some kind of a zombie state, as far as our constitution is concerned. So if we part company, on the political side, with a really long-standing constitutional principle that the executive has to have a majority in the House of Commons, while we’re parting company, on the judicial side, with saying the judges aren’t supposed to assert some higher principle of constitutional law that they uphold over parliament, then we’re in completely – I mean, I can’t even begin to think where we are constitutionally, it doesn’t make sense.’ – Helen Thompson

Listen to the full episode:


  • 19 September 2019 at 8:13pm
    Joe Morison says:
    Brexit seems to destroy whatever it touches, in this case our constitution which relies to quite an extent on people doing the right thing even when there is nothing explicitly making them. But now our country is being led, in the words of the president of Penrith and The Border Conservative Association, by ‘an extremist advising an opportunist’ (and an utterly shameless opportunist at that) and that part of the constitution is gone, probably for good; given that, I don’t see any alternative to the courts stepping in - and in the long run we’re going to need a written constitution.

  • 20 September 2019 at 1:36am
    Graucho says:
    The topic for Jonathan Sumption's Reith Lectures could not have been better timed. Hard cases make bad law. Opposed as one is to the current PM, I'd still prefer to rely on the electorate rather than judges to deliver verdicts on politicians. A view one has held ever since the Jeremy Thorpe trial judge made his infamous summing up.

    • 20 September 2019 at 5:28pm
      Joe Morison says: @ Graucho
      I think, Graucho, that we’d all prefer, ceteris paribus, the electorate to be in charge via the politicians we’ve elected; the trouble is that as things stand, our politicians have been disenfranchised by an extremist executive. Given that, who can return power to where it’s meant to be other than the judges?

      (I agree with your opinion about the quality of some of the judiciary. Along with the Thorpe case, the Archer trial also stands out as a particularly shameful moment - ‘is she not fragrant?’ I get the impression, though, that the Supreme Court Justices are of a significantly higher calibre.)