A Collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh

UK High Court dismisses EU reform treaty lawsuit

[JURIST] A UK High Court dismissed [opinion, PDF] a lawsuit Wednesday that sought to force the government to put the ratification of the new EU reform treaty [JURIST news archive], known as the Treaty of Lisbon [PDF text; official website], to a public vote. Influential UK Conservative Party donor Stuart Wheeler [BBC profile] launched a legal bid to force a referendum on the treaty [JURIST report] in January, arguing that Prime Minister Gordon Brown [official website] had broken a pledge to hold a referendum on the pact, possibly warranting judicial review. The High Court agreed to consider the suit in May. Brown has said that a referendum is unnecessary because the treaty does not affect the UK constitution or impinge on British sovereignty. In dismissing Wheeler's lawsuit, the High Court ruled:

For the reasons we have given, we are satisfied that the claim lacks substantive merit and should be dismissed. Even if we had taken a different view of the substance of the case, in the exercise of the court’s discretion we would have declined to grant any relief, having regard in particular to the fact that Parliament has addressed the question whether there should be a referendum and, in passing the European Union (Amendment) Act 2008, has decided against one.

At a late stage in the proceedings, a few days before we expected to hand down judgment, we were informed by the Treasury Solicitor that, following Royal Assent to the European Union (Amendment) Act 2008, the government "is now proceeding to ratify the Treaty of Lisbon." We were concerned that the government might be intending to pre-judge or pre-empt the decision of the court by ratifying the treaty while the lawfulness of doing so without a referendum was still in issue before the court. The Prime Minister, however, acted promptly to remove our concern by Foreign Secretary making clear that ratification would not take place before the judgment was handed down.

In the event, the decision of the court is itself clear. We have found nothing in the claimant’s case to cast doubt on the lawfulness of ratifying the Lisbon Treaty without a referendum.
BBC News has more. The Guardian has additional coverage.

Last year, UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs David Miliband [official profile] similarly rejected calls for a general referendum on the treaty, instead insisting [transcript] that it was sufficiently "different...in absolute essence" from the earlier draft European Constitution [JURIST news archive]. The draft constitution would have been put to a popular vote [JURIST report] had it survived political defeats in France and the Netherlands. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair rejected a referendum [JURIST report] on the Treaty of Lisbon last year before leaving office. The UK House of Lords [official website] passed a bill [text; JURIST report] earlier this month to ratify the treaty, rejecting an amendment pushed by Conservative peers to postpone the upper chamber vote. The House of Commons approved the Treaty [BBC report] in March. AFP has more.

About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

© Copyright JURIST Legal News and Research Services, Inc., 2013.