This arose as a result of an application made by the Attorney General for Northern Ireland under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, Sch 10, para 34. That para provides that the Attorney General may refer to the Supreme Court any devolution issue which is not the subject of proceedings. A devolution issue includes a question whether a purported exercise of a function by a Northern Ireland Department is or would be invalid by reason of s 24 of the 1998 Act.  S 24(1)(a) provides that a Department of Northern Ireland has no power to make, confirm or approve any subordinate legislation, or to do any act, so far as the legislation or act is incompatible with any of the rights guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Attorney General’s reference was based on his assertion that the disputed universal credit provisions breach the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and the ECHR, arts 8, 14 and 12 and art 1 of Protocol 1, and are therefore invalid per s 24.

The Supreme Court unanimously declined to accept the Attorney General’s application to refer the issue to the court under the 1998 Act. It held, inter alia, that acts by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland or by departments in Westminster do not come within the purview of s 24.

For judgment, please download: [2020] UKSC 2
For Court’s press summary, please download: Press Summary
For a non-PDF version of the judgment, please visit: BAILII

To watch the hearing please visit: Supreme Court website: 27 November 2019 morning session