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Contempt Of Parliament An explantion

Yesterday the House of Commons held a historic vote for the government to release the legal advice for policy on Brexit.

The vote resulted in favour of the release of the legal advice by 18 votes and found ministers in contempt of parliament.

For the first time in history the government has been found in contempt of parliament. This begins to draw British politics into uncharted territory.

Here is an explanation of the situation.

What is legal advice?

For every decision made by parliament it must be overlooked by an attorney general who gives guidance on policy.

It is the ministerial code that “…the law officers must be consulted in good time before the government is committed to critical decisions involving legal considerations”

Originally the position of attorney general was to act as the monarch’s representative in court but today the job is for their offices to give legal advice on policy.

How does it work?

A Government department will request legal advice on an issue, and then the attorney generals department will write up their advice. Geoffrey Cox, the current attorney general, will then review and finalise the draft to be then sent to the cabinet to enforce action.

Why is it so controversial?

The argument could be made that the legal advice must be kept secret so that the government holds more negotiating power in the talks with the EU. It could be considered the strategy guide of British Government.

Geoffrey Robertson, a human rights lawyer, argued “There is no political ‘convention’ more misguided and less examined than the supposed rule that legal advice to ministers must remain confidential.”

However the former Lord High Chancellor said “There are occasions – and they happen infrequently – where if the state is about to embark on something, I think the public have the right to know the full legal basis upon doing it.”

There is a case to be made that the public would have more faith in the government and its policy if it were more transparent with who it is representing.

What is contempt of parliament?

This is the obstruction of parliament in fulfilling out its duties either by: being misleading, refusing to testify (or to present documents) and issuing threats or bribes to influence a member of the legislature.

In this case the government has failed to give over the legal advice which constitutes as refusing to testify.

Yesterday’s vote would hold Geoffrey Cox and David Lidington into account for contempt of parliament since Geoffrey Cox wrote the advice and David Lidington chose to withhold it as the sectary for justice.

What could happen?

It is no longer possible to prosecute an MP with contempt of parliament, however they can lose their parliamentary privilege.

This gives them access to freedom of speech in the House of Commons, which protects them from defamity laws.

Freedom from civil arrests which also protects MP’s from defamation laws.

But most importantly they could be suspended from the commons.

Also the government could come under a good deal of scrutiny, it is possible that there are aspects of the legal advice which does not reflect well on the government.

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