On Dec. 5, the U.K. Supreme Court will be asked to decide the most constitutionally fraught question of its brief history: whether the British Parliament must give its approval before Prime Minister Theresa May can begin the process of pulling out of the European Union.
The hearings are scheduled to last four days with a judgment likely before the end of January.
Leading lawyers from across the nation are set to represent the concerns of British citizens who brought at least half a dozen cases, which were bundled together. Most, but not all, seek to block May from unilaterally triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to carry out Britain’s retreat from the EU, or Brexit. There will also be interveners -- people who join lawsuits by proving the outcome affects them -- not to mention a full complement of 11 judges. Here’s how to tell who’s who.
Parties who want Parliament to vote
Gina Miller and Deir Dos Santos
Lawyers: David Pannick and Dominic Chambers
- Miller, a Guyana-born former model who trained as a lawyer and runs an investment fund, and Dos Santos, a Brazilian hairdresser, scored the first win for Brexit skeptics on Nov. 3, when judges agreed that lawmakers must vote on Brexit. The lawyers for Miller and Dos Santos will argue that ruling was correct, and that triggering Article 50 without parliamentary consent will destroy rights governed by European law.
Oral Arguments: 1 hour 30 minutes each on Dec. 6 and Dec. 7
The People’s Challenge
Lawyer: Helen Mountfield
- Crowdfunded by more than 5,000 supporters, the People’s Challenge is a mix of English, Northern Irish, Welsh, Scots and a Gibraltarian who are concerned that their rights as EU citizens will be stripped away without parliamentary oversight of the Brexit decision.
Oral arguments: 45 minutes on Dec. 8
EEA nationals and children
Lawyer: Manjit Gill
- These people live in the U.K., but are citizens of other nations within the European Economic Area. Lawyers will argue that triggering Article 50 without a vote would impact these people’s rights and could expose them to being removed from the country under the Immigration Act.
Oral arguments: 15 minutes on Dec. 8
The Scottish government (intervener)
Lawyer: Scotland’s chief legal officer, Lord Advocate James Wolffe
- Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon accused May’s government of “seeking to bypass the Scottish parliament” in a bid to undermine the “devolution settlement with no proper scrutiny.” The Scottish will argue that membership of the EU is assumed as part of its agreement with the U.K. that gave more autonomy to regional governments.
Oral Arguments: 1 hour 15 minutes on Dec. 8
Welsh and Northern Irish governments (intervener)
Lawyers: Counsel General for Wales Mick Antoniw and Richard Gordon, Northern Irish Attorney General John Larkin
- Like Scotland, the two regional governments will argue that triggering Article 50 by executive privilege, known as royal prerogative in Britain, raises serious questions around the legal framework of devolution by undermining the powers of the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Executive. The Northern Irish claim was rejected by a Belfast court, while the Welsh case is being reviewed for the first time.
Oral Arguments: Larkin will speak for 45 minutes on Dec. 6 and Gordon will speak for 1 hour 15 minutes on Dec. 8
Fair Deal for Expats (intervener)
Lawyer: Patrick Green
- The group says it represents the interests of around 2 million Britons living in Europe and argues that Brexit would fundamentally change the rights of expatriates who depend on EU membership for the right to live where they do.
Oral Arguments: 30 minutes on Dec. 8
The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (intervener)
Lawyer: Aidan O’Neill
- The IWUG, a trade union for low-paid laborers, is seeking to ensure that workers’ rights are protected under EU law once Article 50 has been triggered. The union also has been asked by the Supreme Court to make submissions on Scottish law and the constitutional implication of triggering Brexit.
Oral Arguments: Written submissions only
Raymond McCord (applicant)
Lawyer: Ronan Lavery
- McCord, an activist for victims of paramilitary violence, says that starting Brexit negotiations before a parliamentary vote would harm the Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland. He lost in a Belfast court, but appeal judges gave him permission to take the case to the U.K. Supreme Court.
Oral arguments: A share of 45 minutes on Dec. 7
The Agnew Group (Applicant)
Lawyer: David Scoffield
- Another reference from the Northern Irish High Court, the group consists of human rights activists, regional politicians and people from the voluntary sector. They argue that an Act of Parliament is required to trigger Article 50.
Oral arguments: A share of 45 minutes on Dec. 7
Parties who say a Parliament vote isn’t necessary
Lawyers: Attorney General Jeremy Wright, James Eadie and and General Advocate Richard Keen (Scotland)
- May’s legal team will argue that Lord Chief Justice Judge John Thomas got it wrong in his majority opinion last month. Government lawyers, led by Attorney General Jeremy Wright, will say that executive privilege gives May the right to trigger Article 50 as she sees fit. Even some members of May’s Conservative party urged her to give in after the Nov. 3 ruling, especially since she’d like prevail in parliamentary vote on Brexit. But May wants to avoid a messy fight with Parliament and delays that would push back her March 2017 deadline to trigger Article 50.
Oral Arguments: A day and-a-half to open and 90 minutes in reply on Dec. 5-6 and Dec. 8
Lawyers for Britain Ltd. (intervener)
Lawyer: Martin Howe
- The only group supporting the government’s right to trigger Article 50 at the top court, the alliance of lawyers, academics and retired judges was given permission to intervene in late November. Although they don’t have permission to speak during the trial, they’ll argue on paper that EU law has no effect on the referendum and rebut claims that the June 23 vote was only advisory.
Oral Arguments: Written submissions only.
The Reference Shelf
- A QuickTake Q&A on the High Court challenge to Article 50.
- A QuickTake explainer on the basics of Brexit.
- How the original decision unfolded.
- The challenges the U.K.’s top court faces during the trial.
- Brexit isn’t the first fight for Gina Miller.