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The United Kingdom was the first country to have a form of a constitution with the Magna Carta in 1215. This document slowly evolved over time into its present form, however it is not a constitution. It was based on three fundamental principles: the rule of law, the supremacy of Parliament and the separation of powers. though it can be argued the latter is no longer true today, as almost all executive power is now wielded by Ministers of the Crown who are simultaneously members of the legislature, there remains the power of the Crown to prevent any law going through. This is highly unlikely to happen, but it is still a viable option.
Charateristics of the British constitution
The United Kingdom does not have a constitution in the sense of a formal document like the US Constitution. However the United Kingdom does not lack constitutional rules.
Because the supremacy of Parliament, the constitution of the United Kingdom is not rigid like the majority of constitutions. Indeed, Parliament can repeal any enactment by further primary legislation. The absence of a codified constitution made it its evolution possible without legislation.
The United Kingdom is a single legal entity. Parliament delegates power to local authorities, devolved governments and to ministers of the crown in order to make secondary legislation, known as Statutory Instruments. However, Parliament could at any time take all these powers back by passing legislation; for example: devolved government in Scotland would be abolished by the repeal of the Scotland Act 1998 (c.46).
Sources of the constitution
Although the British constitution is unwrittem, there are many Acts of Parliament which concern the constitution. The principal stages of British constitutional development were the 1689 Bill of Rights which limited the monarch's power to rule by royal prerogative, the Act of Settlement in 1700 reinforced the power of Parliament and enacted royal succession law's, the European Communities Act of 1972 entered the United Kingdom into the European Union and the Human Rights Act 1998 establsihed the convention rights into law. The supremacy of the elected House of Commons was established by the Parliament Acts 1911 & 1949, giving it sole authority over money bills and the ability to overide a veto of the House of Lords on all bills but those extending the life of Parliament which is limited to five years. The House of Lords Act 1999 abolished the right of heriditary peers to sit in the upper house, and at present there is an all party consensus to reform the upper house to a fully elected chamber.
According to Willian Dicey, the British constitution was "judge made". Even today, there remain a few areas governed not by written law but by Common law, although since the 1980s criminal justice reform has abolished many common law offences. The judiciary retains an important role in the interpretation of often ambiguous legislation. This can particularly be seen in Criminal Law.
Constitutional conventions are unwritten, although they are unenforceable in a court of law, they are of a binding nature. If a convention were to be disregarded, a constitutional crisis would occur. For example: if the Sovereign failed to act on the advise of his/her minsters, it is almost certain that the monarchy would be abolished.
A treaty binds the government to international law but to have effect in the United Kingdom, it must be ratified by Parliament. Thus the United Kingdom has two seperate tiers of law. When the United Kingdom entered into the European Community, it was necessary to pass the European Communities Act 1972 to give the treaty effect in United Kingdom law.
- Find the notion in the UK legal internet