James Eadie must be a fundamentally decent man. He had watched Lord Keen seemingly crash and burn in the supreme court the previous day as he had fumbled and mumbled against the Scottish ruling that the government had acted unlawfully in proroguing parliament. He was anxious not to embarrass him further.
So Eadie, representing the government, deliberately chose to make a virtue of his own mediocrity as he appeared to spend the morning doing everything other than explain why the English courts had been right to find the prorogation lawful. Quite how the government chooses its advocates is something of a mystery. Would a lawyer chasing PPI claims have made a better fist of it?
Not that Eadie wasn’t a huge improvement on Keen. He spoke slowly, each sentence a dull monotone fading into silence. Much like a broken clockwork toy. Um, everything was basically in order, er, because it was. The judges should trust the government. Even when it was lying through its teeth. Because if we couldn’t trust the government then ... Then something.
As they had with Keen, the Lords Reed and Carnwath tried to come to Eadie’s rescue with some helpful interventions, but most of the other judges were far more hostile in their questioning than they had been on the first day. They weren’t in the mood to be pushed around by the government or its flunkeys. They were sentient beings in their own right and they would rule on what they liked. Something that came as a bit of a shock to Eadie, who had just argued it wasn’t for the court to decide what was relevant and rational. Presumably he imagines most legal decisions are made with the help of a Ouija board.
Eadie struggled on, each argument weaker than the last. If parliament hadn’t wanted to be prorogued, why wasn’t it doing something to stop being prorogued? He still hadn’t quite grasped that parliament can’t do anything when it is prorogued. Fairly basic stuff, you’d have thought. The time-sensitive legislation could be dealt with when parliament returned. Apart from the bits that were time sensitive. He didn’t even seem entirely sure of the difference between recess and prorogation. This isn’t a supreme court episode that Eadie will want to watch on iPlayer.
With half an hour to go, Eadie started looking at the clock, willing the hands to move round to 1pm so that his ordeal would end. Keen stood up to pass round some bundles – he might as well make one useful contribution to proceedings – in the hope Eadie might find some inspiration somewhere. He couldn’t.
He couldn’t explain why the Incredible Sulk had not signed a witness statement giving the reasons for the prorogation. In fact, he didn’t even bother to pretend that the pretext for suspending parliament had been the Queen’s speech. No one believed a word Boris Johnson said. Not even him. Especially him. The longer he spoke the more it seemed everything in the government’s argument was probably false. It was all he could do to prevent himself making a full confession.
The afternoon session was something else. Making the case for the Scottish ruling to be upheld, Aidan O’Neill had clearly decided Lord Pannick had already won the case on the facts – though to give them their due, Keen and Eadie appeared to have already lost it on the facts – and that enough judges had already made up their minds on the justiciability of the proceedings, so he was free to let rip with his own unique brand of oratory. This was the courtroom as proper primetime TV drama.
He began by going full-on Braveheart for 30 minutes, making an impassioned plea for the importance of all things Scottish, daring the judges to insult them. Robbie Burns, John Buchan, Walter Scott, Macbeth. That carpet with a thistle on it. They all got a mention. All that was missing was the Proclaimers. Then they were part-timers only walking 500 miles.
Having captured his audience – some against their will: Eadie looked as if he wanted to throw up – O’Neill then took aim at the government. You couldn’t trust the Incredible Sulk further than you could throw him. Boris lied and he lied and he lied. He couldn’t help himself. That very day he had even denied there were TV cameras there as he was filmed visiting a hospital. “There’s definitely no press,” the liar had lied.
Lord Reed appeared vaguely upset that anyone might question the prime minister’s probity, but O’Neill just went for him. “Don’t be sceptical, be upset”, he said. Reed wisely kept quiet. No one else dared interrupt him. Indeed, it rather felt as if most of the judges were taking some kind of masochistic pleasure in being talked at in this way. It made a difference from their usual dusty hearings. And in their heart of hearts, they probably suspected O’Neill was on the side of the angels.
This wasn’t just some academic legal exercise, O’Neill continued. This was a prorogation with a purpose to hijack democracy. And the judges and the courts shouldn’t take it lying down. Though a good lie down was just what they needed come the close. It had been an exhausting two hours for everyone. A session that would resonate on both sides of the border.