Government and Politics - The Constitution

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constitution is a set of fundamental principles, laws, rules and practices by which a state or other organization is governed. It sets out the formal relationships between citizens and the state.

-Provides the framework for the political system, determing where decision-making authority resides and protecting the basic rights of citizens. (Bill of Rights)

-In liberal democracies, the constitution provides an important defence against the abuse of power by the state and its institutions. It upholds a system of limited government in which a system of checks and balances prevent over-mighty government, and the rights of the citizens are protected from arbitrary state.

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Bill of Rights

Bill of Rights is an authoritative statement of the rights of citizens, often entrenched as part of a codified constitution.

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Limited Governement

Limited Government is a system in which the powers of government are subject to legal contraints, and checks and balances within the political system.

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Constitutionalism is the theory and practice of government according to the rules and priciples of a constitution. A constituional democracy is one which operates within the framework of a constitution that sets limits on the powers of government institutions and provides protection for the rights of citizens. 

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Codified Constitution

A Codified Constitution is a single document that sets out the laws, rules and principles on how a state is to be governed, and the rights of citizens. The key provisions governing the political system are collected in one authoritative document, called "The Constitution."

-Collected in a single authoritative document.

-It has status of fundamental law, being above all other law.

-It is entrenched, making the amendments difficult to change,

-The courts, use it to determine if actions are constitutional.

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Uncodified Constitution

An Uncodified Constitution is one in which the laws, rules and priciples specifying how a state is to be governed are not gathered in a single document. Instead they are found in a variety of sources, some written (statute laws) and some unwritten (conventions). 

-There is no single authoritative document. 

-It has the status of ordinary law; no hierachy of laws.

-It is not entrenched, but can be amended in the same way as ordinary law.

-Judicial review is limited; there is no single authoritative document that senior judges can use to determine if an action is unconstitional. 

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Fundamental Law

Fundamental Law is the law which forms the foundation of the government of a state. 

-A codified constitution has the status of Fundamental Law or higher law, placing it above ordinary law made by the legislature. There is a two-tier legal sytem with the constitution having a higher status than all other law. A constitutional (or supreme) court determines whether its provisions have been violated. 

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Entrenched means secured; difficult to change. 

-Make it more difficult to change than ordinary legislation. For the constitution to be amended, a super majority in the legislature or approval in a referendum may be required.

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Judicial Review

Judicial Review is the power of senior judges to review the actions of government and public authorities, declaring them unlawful if they have exceeded their authority,

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Statute Law

Statute Law is law derived from Acts of Parliament and subordinate legislation. It is law created by parliament. In thr legislative process, Acts of Parliament have to be approved by the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the monarch before they are placed in the Statute book (gain force of law). They are implented by the executive and enforced by the courts.

Examples of statute law are:

  • The Parliament Act 1911- established the House of Commons as the dominant chamber of parliament,
  • The Scotland Act 1998- created a Scottish Parliament.
  • The Human Rights Act 1998- enshrined key rights in UK law. 
  • The Fixed-term Parliament Act 2011- established fixed-term elections for Westminster.
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Common Law

Common Law is law derived from decisions in court cases and from general customs. It includes legal principles that have been developed and applied by UK courts. 

-For Example: Common law is is for example the rights of homeowners to tackle intruders who enter their property.

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Royal Prerogative

Royal Prerogative is Discretionary powers of the Crown that are exercised in the monarchs name by government ministers They are the powers exercised in the name of the Crown. (Powers the Queen once had that the Prime Minister now has).

The Crowns prerogative powers traditionally included the right to: 

-Give royal assent to legislation.

-Declare war and negotiate treaties.

-Appoint ministers.

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Conventions established norms of political behaviour rooted in past experience rather than the law.They are rules and laws that are considered to be binding. They are neither codified nor enforced by the courts of law; it is long usayd that gives conventions their authority. 

-The British constitution is reguarded as flexible because some of its key elements are based on convention. By convention, the monarch must assent to Acts of Parliament; if the queen were to refuse then a constitutional crisis would ensue.

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Appointing the Prime Minister

It is the monarch who Appoints the Prime Minister. Convention dictates that the leader of the largest party in the House of Commons after a general election will be invited to form a government. 

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Ministerial Responsibility

Ministerial Responsibility is the circumstances under which government ministers ought to resign are also governed by convention. The convention of collective ministerial responsibility suggests that ministers who cannot accept a policy position agreed to the cabinet should leave the government. Individual ministerial responsibility holds that ministers should resign if they, or their department are guilty of serious political mistakes.

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Salisbury Convention

Salisbury Convention states that the House of Lords should not vote down or wreck bills that seek to enact a manifesto commitment of the governing party. It marked an acceptance in the 1940's that an unelected upper house with an inbuilt Conservative majority should not frustrate the will of the Commons and the electorate.

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Authoritative Works

Authoritative Works is a number of established legal and political texts which have become accepted as works of authority on the British constitution. These texts have no formal legal authority but they do have persuasive authority as guides to the workings of institutions and the political system in general.

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Parliamentary Sovereignty

Parliamentary Sovereignty is the cornerstone of the UK constitution. It states that the Westminster Parliament is the supreme law-making body. Parliamenty sovereignty is the doctrine that parliament has absolute legal authroity within the state. Parliament may make laws on any matter it chooses, its decisions may not be overturned by any higher authority and cannot bind its successors. (Parliament cannot do anything that will prevent future parliament.) 

-Parliament can legislate on any subject.

-legislation cannot be overturned by any higher authority.

-No parliament can bind its successors.

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Sovereignty is legal supremacy; absolute law-making authority that is not subject to a hight authority. 

This legislative supremacy is constructed around three propositions: 

-Parliament can legislate on any subject of its choosing.

-Legislation cannot be overturned by any other higher authority.

-No parliament can bind its successors.

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The Rule of Law

The Rule of Law is where the relationship between the state and the individual is governed by law, protecting the individual from arbitrary state action. It ensures that the state action is limited and responsible. All UK citizens must obey the law and are equal under it. 

-The courts can hold government ministers, police officers and public officials accountable for their actions if they have acted outside of the law. 

-Law passed by parliament must be interpreted and applied by an independant judiciary, free from political interference. The rights of citizens can take the government or a local authority to court if they feel they have been treated improperly. Individuals charged under the law are also entitled to fair trial and should not be imprisoned without due reguard of the legal process.

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Civil Liberties

Civil Liberties are fundamental individual rights and freedoms that ought to be protected from interference by the state. 

For example, The Human Rights Act 1998 gives greater protection to civil liberties.

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A Unitary Constitution

Unitary Constitution is one in which sovereignty is located at the centre. Central government has supremacy over other tiers of government, which it can reform or abolish. 

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Federal Constitution

A federal constitution divides sovereignty between two-tiers. Power is shared between national government (The Federal) and regional government (The States) 

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Unitary State

A Unitary State is a homogeneous state in which power is concentrated at the political centre and all parts of the state are governed in the same way.

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Union State

A Union State is a state in which there are cultural differences and where, despite a strong centre, different parts of the state are governed in slightly different ways.

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Constitutional Monarchy

A Constitutional Monarchy is a political system in which the monarch is the formal head of state but the monarchs legal powers are exercised by government ministers.

For example: to assent to legislation

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Cabinet Government

A Cabinet Government is a system of government in which executive power is vested in a cabinet, whose members exercise collective responsibility, rather than a single office.

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Parliamentary Government

A Parliamentary Government is a political system in which governement takes place through parliament, and in which the executive and legislative branches are fused.

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Prime Ministerial Government

A Prime Ministerial Government is a system of government in which the prime minister is the dominant actor and is able to bypass the cabinet.

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Legislature is the branch of government responsible for making law.

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Executive is the branch of government responsible for the implementation of policy.

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Judicary is the branch of government responsible for interpreting the law and deciding upon legal disputes.

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Fusion of Powers

Fusion of Powers is the intermingling of personnel in the executive and legislative branches found in parliamentary systems.

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Separation of Powers

Separation of Powers is the princle that the legislative, execution and judicial branches of government should be independant of each other. They should have different functions and distinctive memberships which should not overlap. The idea emerged in liberal thought as a means of preventing tyranny of the concentration of absolute power in one body.

For example: the Crown

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Elective Dictatorship

Elective Dictatorship is the excessive concentration of power in the executive branch. It implies that the only check on the power of government is the need to hold (and win) general elections at regular intervals. Beyond this, the government is free to do whatever it wishes as the constitution oncentrates power in the executive branch and does not provide effective checks and balances.

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Political Sovereignty

Political Sovereignty is absolute political power.

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Globalisation is the widening and deepening interconnectedness between peoples and societies across the world in economic, political, social and cultural activities.

-Globalisation also means that no state can act fully independantly on issues such as the environment, economic policy and terrorism.

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Pooled Sovereignty

Pooled sovereignty is the decision-making authority of the member states of an international organisation is combined.  Said to enhance the collective power and achieve the joint interests of the member states, producing outcomes that could not be reached by individual state action or in a system in which member states could veto (A constitutional right to reject a decision or proposal made by a lawmaking body) outcomes.

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Devolution is the transfer of political power from central government to regional or subnational government with limited territorial jursdiction. Sovereign authority is not divided but remains at the centre. The regional tier of government is subordinate to central government and can be changed or removed by it. This contrasts with federalism (having or relating to a system of government in which several states form a unity but remain independent in internal affairs) where the autonomy of regional government is protected in a codified constitution. Legislative devolution is the most significant form of devolution because it involved the creation of seperate parliaments with law-making powers.

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Popular Sovereignty

Popular Sovereignty is the supreme authority resides with the people. Popular sovereignty or the sovereignty of the people's rule is the principle that the authority of a state and its government is created and sustained by the consent of its people, through their elected representatives Rule by the People, who are the source of all political power.

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A Referendum is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to express their view through a vote on a particular proposal. This may result in the adoption of a new law.

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Westminster Model

The Westminster system is a parliamentary system of government modelled after that which developed in the United Kingdom, of which parliament is sovereign, the legislature and executive are fused and political power is centralised.

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Governance is a form of decision-making in which a wide range of institutions, networks and relationships are involved.

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Sleaze in politics is behaviour characterised by low standards of honesty or morality.

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Quasi-federalism occurs when the central government of a unitary state devolves some of its powers to subnational governements. It exhibits some of the features of a unitary state and some of a federal state.

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