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Justice Owen, Rabinder Singh, and the promise-breaking government

The government is in court, trying to defend breaking its pledge to the people of Britain that it would hold a referendum on the EU constitution. John Gouriet paints a colourful picture of the court hearing. His account, slightly edited, appears below -

The judge's name was Mr Justice Owen. He was sitting alone as it was only a 'permission hearing'. Rabinder Singh, representing Stuart Wheeler in his quest for a judicial review, was wearing a white turban, no wig and an Indian frock coat beneath his white lawyer's choker.

Singh was clear, concise and concentrated solely on the principle that a 'promise is a promise' - the government had pledged the voters a referendum on the EU Constitution - and the people had a right to expect the promised pledge would be upheld.

The Treasury silk, Mr Sales, became increasingly desperate and rattled. He tried to draw Rabinder into a constitutional trap of interfering with the sovereignty of Parliament and asserted the alleged 'non-justiciability' of our action.

Rabinder refused to be drawn, and on perhaps three occasions the judge rebuked Sales, saying "He is not arguing that."

Sales jabbered away at great speed, mostly incomprehensively, introducing irrelevant points and mainly relying on the notion that 'if nanny says swallow, you swallow and don't argue; the government can do what it likes and a referendum must first be approved by Parliament'. He even admitted in court that a promise is a promise except in the case of ministers! However, after lunch, he rather sheepishly conceded several of the points on which he had set such store in his defence during the morning.

Altogether an encouraging first day, although one can never tell. However Owen appeared to be a man of some moral fibre and understanding. His grasp of the detail and his readiness to rap Sales on the knuckles was impressive.

I would be surprised if Owen lacks the intestinal fortitude to give permission for judicial review on this fundamental issue as Rabinder has clearly demonstrated that a promise was made and repeated, but not acted upon.

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