Lord Advocate returns Independence Referendum Bill to Supreme Court

Scottish Independence March

Scotland’s chief legal adviser has referred Scottish government legislation on holding another independence referendum to the Supreme Court.

Following Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement that he intended to hold another vote on October 19, 2023, Ms Sturgeon said Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain QC had agreed to ask the Supreme Court to rule on the issue of whether the Scottish Parliament had the necessary powers to hold such an indicative vote. vote.

In her statement, the First Minister announced the publication of the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill.

On Tuesday, an 18-page reference was submitted to the court.

Nicola Sturgeon at Holyrood
Nicola Sturgeon described the move last week to Holyrood (Lesley Martin/PA)

“The Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament and the people of Scotland and the UK at large should have clarity on the scope of the relevant reservations on this matter of fundamental constitutional importance,” the Lord Advocate wrote in her filing. .

“When it comes to questions of law, only this court can provide that clarity and unless the matter is resolved judicially there will remain uncertainty and room for discussion about the powers of the Scottish Parliament. It is not in the interest of the people of Scotland or the United Kingdom.

“In these circumstances, the Lord Advocate determined that it was appropriate for her to seek a judicial decision from the Supreme Court. Accordingly, the Lord Advocate makes this reference, in the exercise of his retained functions, under paragraph 34 of Schedule 6 to the Scottish Act.

“This is the first time that this power has been exercised by the Lord Advocate. It is a measure of the fundamental importance of the question and its exceptional character.

Ms Bain told the court she would need to have ‘confidence’ in the competence of the Scottish Parliament to legislate on a certain subject before a bill could be introduced, and that she would have to endorse a declaration to that effect effect.

“In the present case the Lord Advocate does not have the necessary degree of confidence,” she wrote in court.

In the filing, the Lord Advocate asked the court a question, “would the provision of the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill which provides that the question to be put in a referendum be “Should Scotland be an independent country? relate to reserved matters? »

Ms Bain also stressed that any referendum held next year would not be legally binding, but merely indicate the will of the Scottish people on the matter.

“The bill does not stipulate what should happen in response to the outcome,” she wrote.

“The bill only provides that the referendum must take place.

“Therefore, as a matter of law, the legal effect of a referendum held under the Bill would be void.”

If the Supreme Court delivers a verdict that even an indicative vote does not fall within the powers of the Scottish Parliament, the First Minister has said the upcoming general election will act as a “de facto referendum”, with the SNP standing on the sole question of independence. .

Last week, an update from the Supreme Court said the remand would go to the Chief Justice, Lord Reed of Allermuir, who will decide when the case will be heard, whether any preliminary issues need to be discussed, how many judges will review the dismissal and which judges will sit on the bench.

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