The UK government is ready to fight the courts over fears they could strike down historic powers to withdraw British passports from those accused of terrorism. The Royal Prerogative gives the Queen – or in practice her government – a number of powers, one of which is withdrawing passports, but it is expected to be challenged through the courts.
David Cameron confirmed today the government would consult immediately on legislation to overrule any reduction in the powers. He said he would also attempt to pass legislation to extend the prerogative to give immigration officers the power to withdraw passports on the spot at airports. This will ensure that when British nationals are suspected of attempting to head to fight for ISIS they can be stopped before they leave the country.
Cameron’s government has had problems with activist judges before, and have had a large number of laws struck down because they conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights. But today’s announcement shows he is now adopting a much more belligerent tone, and is prepared to use parliament’s powers in an attempt to overrule the courts.
This strategy has come unstuck in the past though, and he has consistently refused to implement the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that allows prisoners to vote in elections. However, this does mean that he is in breach of a ruling, and unless Britain leaves the European Convention that breach will always exist.
The Prime Minister has indicated he would like to leave the Convention and even sacked his Attorney General Dominic Grieve, who was perceived as a defender of it. But EU rules state that membership of the convention is compulsory and in any case the Liberal Democrats would block such a move. Nick Clegg’s party see themselves as the defenders of civil liberties and this is probably why so little was announced today to combat terrorism.
Dominic Grieve claimed the whole package of reforms, which include not allowing British nationals back into the country “offended the basic principles of common law”.