AS Government & Politics: Governing Modern Britain

AS Politics Unit 2

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The British Constitution

A Constitution is a body of rules that defines the manner in which a state or society is organised. It sets out the way in which sovereign power is distributed between the government and the people, and between the government's constituent parts.

Codified Constitution - full and authorative set of rules written down in a single document. E.g the American Constitution

Uncodified Constitution - drawn from a number of different sources - some written and some unwritten.


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The main sources of the British Constitution

Statute Law - acts of parliament that play a key role in defining the relationship between the government and the people or between the different elements of government. E.g. Human Rights Act (1998) or the Parliament Acts (1911 and 1949). The passing of a new statute can make or unmake any existing law and overturn any other constitutional practice.

Common Law - refers to established customs and legal precedent developed through the actions of judges. Most civil liberties, including freedom of speech, were originally established in common law.

Conventions - traditions and customs that have become accepted rules of behaviour. E.g. collective cabinet responsibility. Conventions have no real legal standiing so can easily be overturned with the passing of a parliamentary statute.

EU Laws and treaties - the European Communities Act (1972), which incorporated the Treaty of Rome (1957), gave European laws precedence over our own national laws.

Works of Authority - scholary texts which serve to codify practices not outlined on paper elsewhere. E.g. Walter Bagehot's The English Constitution (1867) & Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice (1844)

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