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Does the United Kingdom Have a Recognisable Constitution?

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In order to answer the question as to whether the UK has a ‘constitution’, this essay shall firstly define what is meant by the term. Secondly, establish that the bases of any constitution must have with it the philosophical and practical implementation within the State structure; namely the rule of law and the separation of powers. Thirdly, with reference to various sources of law, describe the type of ‘constitution’ the United Kingdom possesses

Finally, shall cross compare and analyse the differences and similarities with the US constitution, to reinforce the view that indeed the UK does have a constitution; albeit in a different form and preferential format compared to the rigidity employed in the constitutions of other states.

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The UK is sometimes referred to as having an unwritten constitution which could be said is seen misleading and untrue. Unlike Britain, the USA’s constitution is a written constitution with its major rules being codified and contained within seven articles with their subsequent amendments . The statement above indicates that the UK constitution is not worth the paper it is not written, The United Kingdom happens to be one of three countries in the world to have an unwritten constitution, the other two being Israel and New Zealand. Unwritten constitutions draw on a variety of sources, In the UK the unwritten constitution is made up of statutes, EU Law, Common Law, prerogative powers and conventions, which is how it has evolved over the years. The statement indicates that the constitution is not worth the paper it is not written on, however it fails to identify the fact the UK constitution may function well from the many papers it is written and through the process it has evolved. The evolutionary nature of the UK constitution means that it is relatively easy to add new constitutional laws and adapt to changing times. However one of the flaws is that it isn’t as easy to access as a single written document. Without the constraint of a written constitution Britain has been able to keep up with the times and has a considerable capacity for adapting their old institutions to meet new requirements. Britain has had a long and continuous national history and the origin of constitutional practice dates back to the Saxon kings who ruled England before the Norman conquest of 1066

There has been a long tradition of strong central rule dating back to the Tudors, and since the upheavals of the 17th century constitutional development has been largely peaceful and evolutionary.

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The sources of the UK constitution are the following. First, statute law, which is the body of the Acts of Parliament. The Acts are considered the highest source of law due to the principle of parliamentary sovereignty

Some particular statutes are of special importance. Among them are: the Petition of Right (1628), the Bill of Rights (1689), the Parliament Act (1911), the Representation of People Acts (1918 and 1969), the Human Rights Act (1998), etc. (Leyland, 2012, 9. 39-40). The next source is common law, which means that the decisions that judges make in a legal case have an effect on future legal cases in this country. Certain legal cases have expanded the power of common law; for instance, Entick v Carrington put limits on the power of the Secretary of the State and the Crown to interfere with a person or property. However, legal decisions can be overruled by later statutes. After 1973, when the UK joined the European Union, its laws have also become part of the UK constitution. The laws include the European Communities Act (1972), the Treaty of Rome (1957) and the subsequent treaties and the treaty of Lisbon (2007). The treaties were incorporated into the legal system of the UK by corresponding statutes (Leyland, 2012, p. 40). The European Convention of Human Rights (1998) is also a part of the constitution. It gives a person a variety of rights and allows to sue the UK at the European Court of Human Rights in the case of offense (Huxley-Binns & Martin, 2014, p. 22-23). Because of the absence of a codified constitution, legal and academic treatises such as “The English Constitution” by Walter Bagehot become a source as well (Leyland, 2012, p. 41-42).

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To summarize, ministers can be very critical of the way the Act is interpreted while the judiciary appears very enthusiastic. Nonetheless, human rights are now an integral, and written, part of the British constitution. The Act introduced a new approach to statutory interpretation and added to the range of reasons on which government action can be found unlawful. In other words it increased the accountability of the executive and at the same time encouraged respect for the rule of law. Accordingly, it can be concluded that the Act facilitated many positive changes.

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King, A. (2011). Codifying – or not codifying – the UK constitution: A literature review. Web.

Leyland, P. (2012). The constitution of the United Kingdom: A contextual analysis (2nd ed.). Oxford: Hart Publishing.

Martin, E. (2003). Oxford dictionary of law (5th edition). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

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