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Parliamentary v Attorney General [2015] UKSC 21,

Parliamentary sovereignty stands as an significant notion in United Kingdom constitution. It originated at the time of William-III and Mary-II who came to a position of royalty through sacrificing their own power and giving it to parliament.1 As a result, the monarch’s authority of royal prerogative is under parliament within the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century.2 This condition may be found within the Bill of Rights 1688, that regulations should be created and/or revoked by Parliament and not by the Monarch alone.3

Dicey’s views of parliamentary Sovereignty is that parliament is the final law-making institution and has the ability sanction any law.4 The second being is that no parliament is to be bound by a forerunner nor bind an upcoming successor.5 The last of Dicey’s principles is that no individual or body might inquire or question the validity and legitimacy of law.6 This essay will discuss if these views are currently accurate or inaccurate.

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In the R (on the appliance of Evans) v Attorney General 2015 UKSC 21, the Attorney General, who is a minister,7 exercised his power to veto a court ruling underneath s.53 (2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.8 Judicial review occurred and it sustained the veto,9 then the problem proceeded to the Supreme Court (SP) which overrode the review.10 It was expressed there were no grounds for the veto and that Section 53(2) was contrary to EU law.11

The significance of R v Attorney General is that the judgment showed that it’s legal for a higher court who to strike down a Government Minister’s decision.12 The thought-provoking part here, is the power used by the Attorney General that was struck down by the Supreme Court, was fashioned underneath an act of Parliament.13 Since the Supreme Court overrode the Judicial review and said that the Minister had no ground to exercise his power of veto,14 it suggests that it is legitimate for a court to deny Parliaments will, this will being Parliament permitting the use of the veto.15 It may be argued that the Diceyan Doctrine remains inaccuate because the courts used their power to deny a Minister his power that was Emn given by an act of parliament,16 and so the courts probed the validity of an act of parliament.

Furthermore, Jackson v Attorney General contained an idea of judges acting in their official boundary17. What this means is that the courts may have the ability to strike down an Act of Parliament in the event of an infringement of constitutional principles.18 Thus, a body like a court will question the legitimacy of laws brought by Parliament. In this case, three law lords urged that that courts have the capability to strike down legislation.19 One example is Lord Steyn, he said ” it is not unthinkable that circumstances could arise where the courts may have to qualify a principle established on a different hypothesis of constitutionalism. In exceptional circumstances involving an attempt to abolish judicial review or the ordinary role of the courts”.20 This means that the courts do have an ability to question parliament and the laws it makes revolving the Judiciary. If Parliament decides to eradicate certain court powers such as judicial review through an act, the courts have the capability strike down that act.21 However, although it’s going to appear as if the court decisions are going against the Diceyan doctrine, the next pointis said to be guard the Diceyan Doctrine.

In the R (on application of miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the issue here is the government utilising exclusive powers known as Prerogative powers to trigger article 50.22 The question here was if these powers might be used to trigger article 50.23 The Supreme Court recognised that there was an important guideline of the UK’s constitution, this being that Parliament is sovereign and might amend or repeal laws.24 The European Communities Act 1972 which carried the UK into the EU25 was introduced through an Act and consequently, the government cannot supersede the ECA using exclusive powers given by the monarch.26 It was said that Parliament should only Trigger article 50 because the European Communities Act (ECA) 1972 is an independent source of law,27 then parliament might solely select once to reject this source of Law. In addition to this, the EU provided citizens with rights, and so solely Parliament is authorised to revoke these rights .28 This upheld the Diceyan Doctrine that Parliament is supreme law creating body and solely it will create and repeal laws.

However, we should reflect the situation of Parliament before the EU referendum, the Withdrawal Bill and R v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Through this situation, the Diceyan Doctrine remained inaccurate through the ECA 1972.29 The ECA allowed the U.K to become a member of the European Union.30 It additionally gave way EU law superseding United Kingdom’s law brought by Parliament and so, takes precedence over national law31. This implies that parliament is not, any longer, the supreme law-making body because the EU presently makes the law that Parliament cannot supervene upon it.

In R (Factortame Ltd) v Secretary of State for Transport, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) addressed the legitimacy of the Merchant Shipping Act (MSA) 1988.32. The MSA would protect the British Fishing industry by stopping foreign national exploiting British fish stocks33. This was considered discriminatory.34 This issue was later brought to the House of Lords.35 It was recognised that the supremacy principle of applying EU law over UK law, and to disregard any national rules of principles such as sovereignty.36 Here is a case of the prevention of a parliamentary act from having an impact, which validates that parliament is not the preeminent law making body because the MSA, an act of parliament was declared incompatible with EU law37, so the MSA ought to be negated. It indicates how a court, will question the validity of an act introduced by Parliament.

However, one might argue that Parliament consented to the present dominion and can merely repeal the ECA 1972.38 This would result in Parliament’s sovereignty not being lost and Dicey’s account would subsequently be correct. This is the current scene in the UK. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will negate ECA39 and lead to the U.K’s exit from the EU. Once this Bill receives royal assent,40 the U.K will no longer be subjugated to EU law and the European court of justice.41 Parliament will once more be the supreme law creating body and no establishment will question the validity its laws.

In addition to this Section 4 of the Human Rights Act, permits the upper courts to issue of a declaration of incompatibility to act of Parliament in relevancy to human rights.42 This enables courts to think about that the terms of a statute, acts of public authority that Parliament has passed or agreed with, and choose if it’s incompatible with the UK’s commitments underneath the Human Rights Act 1998.43 Thus, this means that the Diceyan Doctrine isn’t correct as it goes against the concept that no body like a court will question the legitimacy of an act Parliament.

However, in terms of the declaration of incompatibility, it merely establishes the act of Parliament is contrary with the European Convention of Human Rights, it does not negate the statute as Parliament then decides whether it needs to amend the act.44 To illustrate this more, under Section 10 of the Human Rights Act, a Minister of the Crown might modify primary legislation that is vital to withdraw the incompatibility.45 Thus, it may be argued that the courts cannot strike down an Act, they alert Parliament and as a result, can amend the incompatible act.

As indicated by the Diceyan Doctrine, Parliament is not bound by its predecessors or bind its successors.46 This is often largely shown through the Doctrine of implicit Repeal.47 This is when Act of Parliament conflicts with an former act, the later Act takes precedence.48 Through this, we can say that no parliament is bound or binding. In, Vauxhall Estates LTD v Liverpool Corporation:1932 1 KB 733 the court said that the Housing Act 1925 impliedly repealed the Acquisition of land act 1919.49 This shows the sovereignty of parliament, this being that no parliament will be bound a forerunner or bind a future parliament.

In conclusion, Parliamentary sovereignty seems to come back in a full circle since Dicey first defined it.50 The Diceyan Doctrine has experienced encounters that goes against it, one major encounter being the EU and how over that 50% of UK laws that have economic impact come from the EU.51 However, there has been a run of positive reception of the Diceyan Doctrine, such as the doctrine of Implied Repeal. My final remark is that when the withdrawal bill receives royal assent,52 Dicey’s account of Parliamentary will be accurate in theory, but in practice, there would still be limits such as the Judiciary. On this note, I say that Parliament is sovereign and that the U.K adheres to the accounts of Dicey.


1 Jeffrey Goldsworth, The Sovereignty of Parliament: History and Philosophy (first ed 1999)

2 Mark Elliot & Robert Thomas, Public law (3rd Edn, OUP, 2017)

3 Ibid n2

4 Ibid n2

5 Ibid n2

6 Ibid n2

7 Ibid n2

8 R (on the appliance of Evans) v Attorney General 2015 UKSC 21

9 Teresa Lucaelli  “The Constitutional Aspect” in Evans v Attorney General

10 Alison. Young, ‘R (Evans) v Attorney General 2015 UKSC 21 – the Anisminic of the 21st Century?’ U.K. Const. L. Blog (31st Mar 2015)

11Ibid n10

12 Ibid n9

13 Karren McCullagh, “A tangled web of access to information: reflections on R (on the application of Evans) and another v Her Majesty’s Attorney General”, (2015)

14 Ibid n8

15 Ibid n2

16 Ibid n2

17 Tom Mullen (2007). “Reflections on Jackson v Attorney General: questioning sovereignty”, Volume 21, Issue 1

18 Ibid n2

19 R (Jackson) v Attorney General  2006 1 AC

20 R (Jackson) v Attorney General  2006 1 AC (262), (102)

21 Ibid

22 R (On the Application of Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 2017 UKSC 5

23 Ibid

24 Ibid

25 Alisdair Gillespie and Siobahn Weare, The English legal System, (6th Edn, OUP 2015)

26 Ibid n22

27 Ibid n22

28 Ibid n22

29 Ibid n2

30 Ibid n25

31 Ibid n25

32 Regina v Secretary of State for Transport, Ex parte Factortame Ltd. and Others (No. 5) 1999 3 W.L.R. 1062

2000 1 A.C. 524

33 Ibid


35 Ibid

36 Ibid n25

37 Ibid n2

38 Jeffrey Goldsworthy, Parliamentary Sovereignty: Contemporary debates (CUP 2015)

39 William James, Michael Holden,  ‘Charming Bastard’ David Davis to lead Brexit talks, Reuters 2017

40 Ibid n2 

41 Ibid n2

42 Nick Barber International Journal of Constitutional Law, The afterlife of Parliamentary sovereignty, Volume 9, Issue 1, 1 January 2011

43 ibid

44Ibid n25

45 Ibid

46 Ibid n2

47 Ibid n2

48 Ibid n2

49 Vuxhall Estates LTD v Liverpool Corporation:1932 1 KB 733

50 Ibid n2

51 House of Commons Library, research paper 10/62, ‘How much legislation comes from Europe’

52 Ibid n2


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