THE UK Supreme Court is to proceed initally with the Scottish Government’s request for a ruling on the legality of Holyrood staging its own independence referendum.
The court said there was no need to grant permission to the request, following a reference from Scotland’s Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain QC.
The President of the Supreme Court, the Scottish justice Lord Reed, will now decide if there are any “preliminary matters” to be addressed, when the case will be heard, how many justices will consider the reference, and which justices sit on the bench.
The court normally has 12 justices, but there are currently two vacancies.
In theory, the court could question the admissibility of the case as part of those preliminary matters.
The Court’s statement follows Nicola Sturgeon telling MSPs this afternoon that she would seek a ruling from the ultimate legal authority in the UK on the legality of Indyref2.
She published a draft bill saying the vote would be on 19 October 2023, but did not introduce it to parliament as there was a question mark over its legislative competence.
Rather than try to pass it and wait for the UK Government to refer it to the Supreme Court for a ruling, she said the Lord Advocate has decided to refer it in advance for a ruling.
She said the process was needed because the UK Government had refused to cooperate as it did on the 2014 referendum, when it granted Holyrood temporary powers under Section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998, putting the vote beyond legal challenge.
In light of Boris Johnson refusing a fresh Section 30 order in 2020, she asked him to reconsider, but also said she was determined to make progress in the absence of one.
A spokesperson for the UK Supreme Court said: “This afternoon (Tuesday 28 June), the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom (UKSC) received a reference by the Lord Advocate under paragraph 34 of Schedule 6 to the Scotland Act 1998 under the Supreme Court’s devolution jurisdiction.
“Under devolution legislation enacted by the UK Parliament, the Supreme Court may devolution issues, such as whether the devolved executive and legislative authorities in Scotland, and Northern Ireland have acted or propose to act within their powers. Devolution cases can reach the Supreme Court through a reference from someone who can exercise relevant statutory power, such as – in this instance – the Lord Advocate.
“This reference does not need to be granted permission by the Court for it to proceed.
“The first step will be for the reference to be referred to the President of the Supreme Court, The Right Hon The Lord Reed of Allermuir for directions. He will decide whether there are preliminary matters to be addressed, when the case will be listed (heard), how many Justices will consider the reference, and which Justices will sit on the bench.
“At this stage, we cannot confirm when the case will be heard.”