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John Hemming
John HemmingJohn Hemming o/s Parliament
Parliamentary Candidate for Birmingham Yardley
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Administrative Law

R v The Prime Minister ex Parte John Hemming MP

The answers that Ministers give to Members of Parliament are crucially important for the functioning of our democracy. In order to do what is right for the country and to hold the government to account Members of Parliament need full and accurate information about how things are and what the government is doing.

Over the years, however, MPs have been getting more and more angry and frustrated at their inability to get answers, and the issue has been raised more and more frequently within the House of Commons.

MPs, however, appear to have limited power in forcing Ministers to answer their questions: the Speaker of the House of Commons has repeatedly stated that the content of answers is beyond his remit; and the Ministerial Code, which states that Ministers must answer questions as fully and accurately as possible, is authorized by the Prime Minister - who is hardly a neutral figure, and is unlikely to take up the concerns of backbenchers eager to do battle with his own government.

That Ministers can undermine the democratic process by withholding information from MPs, with little chance of facing any sanction, would appear to be a constitutional flaw.

John Hemming has been engaged in a long-running campaign to put this right. He has recently been in the courts, arguing that Ministers have a legal obligation under Common Law to provide information to Ministers.

Judicial Review provided the opportunity for John Hemming to ask a court to overturn the decisions made by Ministers not to answer his questions appropriately. He provided the courts with a list of eleven examples where this is the case. The argument wasn't about whether the Ministers have or haven't answered these specific questions, it was about whether the matter is "judiciable", about whether the court can, in principle, force Ministers to answer questions.

This article "The Courts and Politics: Holding The Executive to Account" by John Hemming goes into more detail about the case.
On January 25th 2007 the case closed with the court deciding that this is a matter for parliament and not for the courts.

John Hemming plans to continue his campaign within parliament, and has cross party support for the parliamentary petition (Early Day Motion) that set down about the issue.

Click here for a timeline showing the stages through which the court case went, with links to the appropriate legal documents, including John Hemming's arguments, Judge's decisions, and the Government's response.

Page last updated: 05 December 2012