What are the sources of the constitution?
- Set of laws/rules by which a country is governed
- Uncodified, as well as e.g. Israel and New Zealand
- Statutes; Magna Carta,1215 and the Bill of Rights, 1689
- Political conventions
- Common or case law
- Constitutional experts, e.g. Walter Bagehot, Erskine Mary and A. V Dicey.
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What is parliamentary sovereignty?
- Westminster Parliament is a supreme law-making body
- Legislation cannot be overturned by higher authority
- Westminster can legislate on any issue
- No parliament can bind its successors.
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What is a 'unitary state'?
- Centralised state, national institutions at centre
- Characterised by weak local and 'subnational' government, with little or no autonomy
- No power-sharing, e.g. federal systems of Germany and the US
- "A unitary state is a centralised state in which political power is located at the centre in national institutions" - M. Garnett & P. Lynch, UK Government and Politics.
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Unitary state or union state?
- J.Mitchell said "a classic unitary state exhibits a high dgree of standardisation", i.e. similar systems of government and political culture
- In a union state, differences remain
- Wales, invaded by England in 1282, Act of Union (1536,1542)
- Scotland, crowns joined under James I (1603), states joined by Act of Union (1707)
- Ireland, Act of Union (1801) united Irish and British parliaments, Ireland Act (1949) established acknowledged Irish Free State and protected Northern Ireland
- By mid-20th century, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Offices were all established
- Support for devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
- Scotland: legislative and tax-varying powers; responsibility for education, health and local government
- Wales; secondary legislative authority
- Northern Ireland; similar powers to Scotland.
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- Rules or accepted practises, neither codified nor enforced by law
- Examples of this include: royal assent to acts of parliament, appointment of leader of largest party to form government, Prime Minister is a member of the House of Commons (last instance of a Lord, Alec Douglas-Hume, 1963).
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- Acts of Parliament - some acts have greater constitutional significance than others
- Examples of this include: Great Reform Act (1832) extending franchise, Parliament Act (1911) establishing the House of Commons as dominant chamber, and the Human Rights Act (1988), enshrining key rights in the UK's law.
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- Legal principles that have been established by law courts having interpreted the law
- Also customs and precedents, e.g. royal prerogative to declare war, negotiate treaties, dissolve parliament, and appoint ministers and judges
- Powers are only nominal, and real power lies with the Prime Minister.
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- This is legal supremacy
- This means that parliament has the ultimate law-making authority.
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