The nobile officium, popularly referred to as “the nob off”, is a uniquely Scottish principle of law which, so far as I can tell, means that the courts can do whatever they want. There’s a bit more to it than that, but as a rough summary, that more or less covers it.
So it is to the Scottish courts that anti-Brexit campaigners have turned, seeking protection against Boris Johnson’s oft-repeated threats to refuse to seek an extension from the EU.
Let’s get The Nobile Officium Song out of the way (it has a bit of a Mary Poppins theme), then we can get down to some nitty gritty…
Phew. Now that that’s over…
On my honour…
Boris Johnson’s lawyer told the Court of Session in Edinburgh that the government would comply with the Benn Act and seek an extension. Then Boris Johnson’s secretary of state for Brexit told the press in London that the government would not seek an extension. Then Boris Johnson’s lawyer said, no, the government definitely would. Then Boris Johnson’s secretary of state for Brexit said, no, the government definitely wouldn’t.
The Scottish judge, Lord Pentland (pictured right), was clearly getting somewhat tired with this and asked if the government would guarantee, in a sworn affidavit that’s legally binding, that it would comply. The answer was no: “There’s no need. It wouldn’t make any difference.”
“I think it would,” observed Lord Pentland.
Ultimately, proceedings ended with the government offering to make a pinky promise not to be naughty. The judge made avizandum (on which more below).
About Gina Miller
The last major case against Boris Johnson was brought by Gina Miller. It seems that some sections of the public are quite confused about her as well. Here are some confused people and the correct way to respond to them:
CP: She’s foreign!
CR: No, she was born in the British Empire… where, incidentally, we were foreign but for some reason still in charge.
CP: Nobody voted for her!
CR: People don’t need a democratic mandate to initiate legal proceedings. That would be stupid.
CP: She only did it because she’s annoyed Johnson shut down Parliament and she wanted to get her way!
CR: Well, quite. The question of ‘was Johnson allowed to shut down Parliament’ naturally only arose when Johnson, er, shut down Parliament.
CP: This judgment changes nothing: we’re still going to leave, suckers.
CR: Then stop whinging.
CP: She’s committed treason!
CR: Her case has been addressed by fourteen highly experienced judges. If she was committing treason don’t you think at least one of them would have spotted it and called the police?
CP: She’s just a wealthy hedge fund manager!
CR: Lucky there aren’t any wealthy hedge fund managers involved in the Brexit campaign then.
CP: It’s terrible how all these Remain campaigners are gloating about their win.
CR: Gosh, let me cast my mind back into the mists of time, because that reminds me of something…
CP: The money the government spent on lawyers could have gone towards hospitals or children’s homes.
CR: That’s a slightly simplistic view of public expenditure, but also: yes. It could. If the government hadn’t broken the law and then tried to wriggle off the hook, it could have saved a lot of public funds.
CP: The Supreme Court isn’t democratic.
CR: It was created by an Act of Parliament. If things created by Acts of Parliament aren’t democratic then that includes the referendum.
CP: This wasn’t just about legal process: she never wanted us to leave in the first place.
CR: OMG off with her head!
CP: How can she complain that she attracted attention when she deliberately sought media coverage?
CR: Perhaps she wanted people to engage with her arguments about the nature of democracy and the British constitution, not to abuse her, threaten her and call for her deportation? You have to admit that’s a possibility.
CP: Her speech after winning was all about her, her, her.
CR: So were your last ten tweets all about her.
CP: She just took a dump on the Magna Carta!
CR: Literally no section of the Magna Carta, in force or repealed, is remotely relevant to this case.
CP: Someone must be bankrolling this!
CR: So? The judges ruled on the law, not on how much they like the look of the claimant.
CP: Her lawyers are making a pretty packet out of this.
CR: Actually many of them were giving their time for free, but also, so what? The government’s lawyers (and the judges) also ‘made a pretty packet’ out of this, ie. got paid for doing their jobs.
CP: She’s just motivated by her business interests.
CR: Possibly. That’s entirely acceptable. Lots of people and companies advocated this way and that in the referendum based on their commercial interests..
CP: Why do people like her never ask the authorities to clamp down on illegal immigration?
CR: Because not everyone focuses on every single political issue. Did you contribute to the recent Department for Transport consultation on reforms to the railway penalty fare system? No? ‘Why do people like you never comment on that?’
CP: Every single person supporting her works for a global corporation
CR: Er hi there!
CP: Oliver Cromwell would have had her head on a spike.
CR: Oliver Cromwell went to all the trouble of abolishing the monarchy, then he appointed his son to succeed him. Pardon me if I don’t take lessons in liberal democracy from Oliver Cromwell.
The Benn Act: frequently asked questions
Parliament has passed a law requiring the Prime Minister to seek an extension from the EU so as to avoid a no-deal Brexit. It was introduced into the House of Commons by Hilary Benn MP and is therefore known as the Benn Act. Here are some useful facts about it.
Q: Is the Benn Act illegal?
Q: Is it unconstitutional for Parliament to pass laws that the government doesn’t like?
Q: Is it unconstitutional for Parliament to pass laws that go against the referendum result?
Q: Can we challenge John Bercow’s decision to allow MPs to debate such a stupid law?
Q: Is the Prime Minister allowed to put the will of the people above the Benn Act and refuse to get an extension?
Q: But he can request an extension with his fingers crossed, right, so it doesn’t count and we still leave on 31 October?
Q: How about if he requests an extension but only a 12-hour extension?
A: Just no.
Q: EU law takes priority over British law though so the Benn Act is invalid, yes?
Q: Well… you’ll see. Dominic Cummings has a way round it. You don’t know his plan because it’s way above your pay grade. But the Benn Act is going to be found invalid.
Scottish legal vocabulary is particularly joyful. Apart from nobile officium and the Outer House (both of which could well follow the phrase Harry Potter and the…) we had the submission, “The Prime Minister’s arguments must be repelled.” Damn right they must!
And then there is the amazing word avizandum, as in, “to make avizandum”. This technically means, to go away and consider something in more detail. But frankly it must be a spell of some sort, perhaps the magic word that will keep Britain in the EU when uttered alongside the requisite potion.