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THE UK'S CONSTITUTION
A constitution is a system of rules specifying how a state is governed and which describes -
the structure and powers of government
the relationship between different parts of government
the relationship between government and citizen
The constitution is therefore an essential starting point for uncovering the structure and processes of
government and for discovering where power lies in the political system.
The different parts government
Government involves three main tasks:
the legislative function - the process of making laws
the executive function - the role of implementing the law and making sure that legislative requirements
are carried out
the judicial function - the task of law enforcement, of deciding whether laws have been broken and if
they have of dispensing punishment.
Separation of Powers
Constitution usually define which people or institutions have the power to carry out these tasks. Some
constitutions state that legislative, executive and judicial powers should be exercised by a different
person or group. This is known as 'the principle of the separation of powers'. The purpose of this
principle is to avoid the concentration of power into the hands of a single person or group.
Sources of the UK constitution
In many countries the constitution has been `codified`, which means - that it is written down in a single
document. Copies are often widely available. The constitution of the USA, for example, is inexpensive
and relatively short and can be bought in bookshops.
A similar rule book cannot be purchased in the UK, however. This is not because the UK does not have a
constitution. It is because the rules which describe the structure and powers of government, and the
relationship between government and citizen, are not found in any single document. In other words,
the British constitution remains, `uncodified'. The fundamental rules and principles underlying the
operation of government in the UK are scattered among various sources.
A - Statute law - A statute is an Act of Parliament. It is a written law which has been passed (approved)
by Parliament and is enforceable in the courts of law. Over time, some statutes have come to be
regarded as having special significance because they contain rules relation to certain rights or duties of
the citizen or to how the gov't of the country should be organised.
The Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 -
The Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 is an example of a statute of constitutional significance because it gives
some protection for the citizen against wrongful imprisonment. The Act enables anyone who has been
confined to demand to be brought before the court for a just trial. In the past this Act was used to free
slaves, to free apprentices from cruel owners and to prevent husbands confining their wives without
B - Common law - Common law is made by judges. It arises out of the custom that a decision made by
one court of law must be followed by other courts facing similar facts. Judges, in this way, are bound by
legal precedents. Much of the original law on civil liberties, for example, as well as the procedures to be
followed by the courts is in reviewing the actions of pubic bodies, is based on common law.
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C - The Royal Prerogative - The royal prerogative is a set of privileges or powers held by the monarch.
The royal prerogative includes the power to:
take possession of or give up territory
issue orders to armed forces
do anything necessary to defend the realm
in an emergency to confiscate or destroy property and to intern aliens
control and manage the civil service.…read more