Scottish judges rules prorogation is illegal. What happens next?

A panel of judges in the Scottish appeals court ruled Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament was illegal on Wednesday.

The ruling overturned an earlier decision that the courts did not have the power to interfere with Boris Johnson’s order to prorogue parliament. 

The appeals court, however, decided that the order was “null and void” after lawyers acting on behalf of 75 MPs and peers said suspending parliament would stifle action on Brexit. 

Despite the ruling, the judges did not issue an injunction which would force parliament to reconvene. Instead, they are waiting on the UK supreme court to issue a final decision.

So what happens next? 

Even though the judges are waiting on the supreme court’s decision on an injunction, the lawyers who worked on behalf of the MPs said that they believe today’s decision meant that prorogation was suspended “with immediate effect”. 

Joylon Maugham QC, a legal campaigner who funded the legal action with his Good Law Project, said the ruling was a win for democracy. 

“I’m relieved that my understanding of the functioning of our democracy – that allows parliament to exercise its vital constitutional role – has been vindicated by Scotland’s highest court.

“This is an incredibly important point of principle. The prime minister mustn’t treat parliament as an inconvenience.”

However, Joanna Cherry QC, the lead applicant on the case, said she did not agree with Maugham that parliament was reconvened immediately. 

“This ruling takes us one step closer to ensuring the UK government cancels their shameful prorogation and blatant plot to force through an extreme Brexit. Boris Johnson cannot be allowed to break the law with impunity,” the MP said. 

The government will now appeal the case to the supreme court, meaning that at least for the moment, parliament is seemingly still suspended. 

A UK government spokesperson said: “We are disappointed by today’s decision and will appeal to the UK supreme court. The UK government needs to bring forward a strong domestic legislative agenda. Proroguing parliament is the legal and necessary way of delivering this.”

Meka Beresford is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter.

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Councils should stop bailiff use for council tax collections to protect vulnerable people

Anti-poverty charities have refreshed calls for councils to stop using bailiffs to collect council tax as figures show that over £1.4 million debt referrals were made last year. 

The Money Advice Trust (MAT) found that the use of debt collectors for debts including parking tickets, council tax and more had increased by seven percent in the last two years across local authorities in England and Wales. 

Over a third of people who contact the Money Advice Trust for help with their finances report being in arrears because of council tax. 

Joanna Elson, the chief executive of MAT, explained that the use of bailiffs by councils was having a bad impact, especially on vulnerable groups of people such as the elderly. 

“Bailiff action is harmful to people in debt – and the fact that local authorities are passing 2.6m debts a year to bailiffs should concern us all,” she said. 

83 percent of callers to MAT who had interactions with bailiffs said that the experience had a negative impact on their wellbeing. 

Elson explained that a change in law was the only way that local councils would stop relying on bailiffs. 

“Reforming the law around bailiff action itself is vital if we are to protect people from harm – and we are today renewing our call for the government to introduce independent bailiff regulation and a single complaints mechanism.

“Of equal importance, however, is reducing the number of debts that are being passed to bailiffs in the first place. 

“While we have seen a modest improvement in debt collection practices – and more councils reducing their use of bailiffs to collect council tax arrears – the pace of change is too slow,” Elon added. 

The Local Government Association released a “good practice protocol” alongside Citizens Advice in 2017, and they explained that they are seeing more councils sign up to the scheme which helps councils navigate debt collection in a mindful manner. 

Richard Watts, the chair of the Local Government Association, said that it was imperative for councils to collect council tax, but that it could be done in a “constructive” way. 

“Councils have a duty to their residents to collect taxes, which play a vital role in funding important services that people rely on.

“However, we realise that times are tough and councils do their best to protect those affected the most, whether through introducing hardships funds or taking a sympathetic and constructive approach to the way we collect unpaid tax,” Watts said. 

Meka Beresford is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter.

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Education in England is ‘moving in the wrong direction’, say campaigners

Campaigners have warned that the education system is “moving in the wrong direction” following an OECD report which warned that British students were leaving university with some of the highest loans.

The Education at a Glance 2019 report looks at education in OECD countries and partner countries and provides data on the structure, finances and performance of education systems.

According to the report, tuitions fees in England are higher than in all OECD countries and economies except the United States. 

“The findings of the OECD’s latest Education at a Glance provide another worrying reminder that education in England is moving in the wrong direction and is an outlier compared with other OECD countries. We need a strong education system to build firm foundations for our economic growth,” explained Dr Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union.

Dr Bousted explained that despite student loans being wiped off after 30 years, the looming burden of debt can put many young people off of going into higher education.

“The study shows that England has among the highest university tuition fees across the OECD and that our students are graduating with enormous debt burdens – approaching £50,000 on average per student. 

“This puts further and higher education out of the reach of many young people and means the UK will struggle to fulfil its commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to which it has signed up alongside other world leaders. Goal 4 commits it to ensure ‘inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all,” she said. 

As well as a high burden of debt, the report warned that students who attend universities in the UK were not being equipped with the knowledge to navigate life after education. 

“It is more important than ever that young people learn the knowledge and skills needed to navigate our unpredictable and changing world,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría.

“We must expand opportunities and build stronger bridges with future skills needs so that every student can find their place in society and achieve their full potential.”

Meka Beresford is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter.

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