Government and Politics- Constitutions

Covering the Constitutions topic of the Unit 2 exam for edexcel

  • Created by: Alex
  • Created on: 09-05-10 19:03

TERMINOLOGY- Define: constitution, sovereignty, un

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Constitution: A set of laws, rules and practices providing the framework for the political system and specifying how a state should be governed; a practical expression for the principle of limited government. Eg: The UK has an uncodified constitution, US has codified.

Sovereignty: The ultimate power in a state. Eg: In the United States sovereignty supposedly resides with the people.

Unitary State: Sovereignty is held in one place by government and no decisions can be made which bind that central power, any power given to lower bodies can be taken away.

Federal State: Sovereignty is divided between different levels, some areas of sovereignty are held by central, federal government and some are held by individual states, on certain issues the government cannot impose their views. Eg: The death penalty in Texas.

Quasi-Federalism: A division of powers between central and regional government that has some features of federalism without possessing a formal federal structure. Eg: UK.

Pooled Sovereignty: A departure from unanimous decision making and a sharing of decision making between states in systems of co-operation.

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Give the three main features of a codified constit

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1. The document itself is authoratitive- It constitutes the highest laws of the land and binds all political institutions.

Eg: Article VI Clause 2 US constitution restricting all laws to the US constitution.

2. The provisions of the constitution are entrenched- It is difficult to amend or abolish, more difficult then the procedure for making ordinary laws.

Eg: US constitution can only be changed if approved by 2/3 of Congress and 3/4 of its states.

3. It is juidiciable- All political bodies are subject to the authority of the courts, in particular a supreme or constitutional court such as the US Supreme Court.

Eg: The Patriot Act put forward by George Bush was seen as unconsitutional.

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Give the three main features of an uncodified cons

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1. The constitution is not authoratitive- there is a single tier legal system with no form of higher law, constitutional laws have some status as ordinary laws.

Eg: The UK mainly works on the basis of convention, after the hung Parliament in 2010 General Election Gordon Brown remained Prime Minister until a deal could be reached.

2. They are not entrenched- Can be changed through the normal practices for ending statute law, reflected in the principle of Parliamentry sovereignty.

Eg: The signing of the Lisbon treaty can be changed through Parliament.

3. They are not judiciable- Judges do not have a legal standard to declare the actions of other bodies unconstitutional.

Eg: Statute law can never be overruled as unconstitutional.

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Give four strengths of the UK constitution? (FISH)

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1. FLEXIBILITY- it is flexible and easy to change. The UK constitution is not entrenched and statute law is much easier to enforce through Parliament. Eg: The introduction of devolution was a response to the rising nationalism in Scotland and Wales.

2. IT LEADS TO RESPONSIBLE AND DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT- Changes to the constitution often come about because of democratic pressure, through power in Parliament. Eg: Social and economic changes in the nineteenth century led to the extension of the franchise (right to vote for women).

3. STRONG AND EFFECTIVE GOVERNMENT- The executive dominance allows government to act quickly and decisively to pass laws. Eg: Anti-terrorism legislation was passed quickly in 2005 after the 7/7 bombings in London.

4. HISTORY AND TRADITION- Conventions and common law have been tested by time and have been shown to work.

Eg: UK constitution has existed for a long period and evolved from absolute to modern democracy without revolution.

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Give four weaknesses of the UK constitution (EWUC)

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1. ELECTIVE DICTATORSHIP- Once elected UK governments can more or less do as they please and changes can be made without consensus.

Eg: Thatchers programme of privatisation in the 1980's.

2. WEAK PROTECTION OF RIGHTS- The lack of an entrenched bill of rights mean that the UK constitution provides weak protection of rights.

Eg: The Prime Minister can use the Royal Prerogative to go to war without the consent of Parliament, as seen in the Iraq War.

3. UNCERTAINTY- Confusion surrounds many constitutional rules because they are not clearly defined, this applies to conventions.

Eg: How serious does a mistake have to be for a minister to resign?

4. CENTRALISATION- The UK has an over-centralised system of government with weak or ineffective checks and balances.

Eg: Anti-terrorism laws of 2001 have been used to increase pre-charge detention.

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Define the fusion and seperation of powers?

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Fusion of Powers- Where there is a fusion or overlap of powers.

Eg: The UK government (the executive branch) is not seperately elected.

Seperation of Powers- The three branches of government in a liberal democracy, these include the executive, the lefislature and the judiciary which are seperated in their composition and functions.

Eg: The US elects their president seperately to their legislature (House of congress and representatives)

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Identify the names of the branches in the UK compa

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The legislature-

UK: Commons and Lords / US: Senate and Representatives

The Executive:

UK: PM, Cabinet and advisors / US: Just the President

The Judiciary:

UK: Supreme Court comprising nine judges / US: Supreme Court

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List three ways in which Parliamentary Sovereignty

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1. The UK government usually has a majority within The House of Commons- when it comes to vote on proposed legislation they usually win.

Eg: The former Labour majority government had a large majority, and under Blair only lost one vote in ten years.

2. The House of Lords cannot completely block a proposed law- They can only delay it for up to a year allowing the government to force it through if required, this fails to grant detailed scrutiny and deliberation.

Eg: The Fox Hunting Bill forced through in 2004.

3. Outside influences- The European Union has sovereignty in areas such as trade and agriculture which undermines Parliamentary sovereignty, furthermore the European Convention on Human Rights has been said to favour criminal over victim with the government powerless to amend it less it leaves the EU.

Eg: Human Rights Act and EU.

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Give two ways in which the US constitution restrai

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Congress can refuse to pass the law- Representatives are elected seperately from the president and the majority often represent a different party to the President, Presidents proposed laws have to be modified to meet congress approval.

Eg: Obama healthcare reform laws in 2009 have been sufficiently watered down to meet approval.

The Supreme Court can throw out a law as unconstitutional- As the Supreme Court Judges interpret the constitution they can throw a law out if it contradicts it.

Eg: The Patriot Act of 2001 was significantly watered down to fit in with the Constitution.

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Give the reason why the UK Constitution does not c

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Executive dominance in the legislature- Allows government to act quickly and decisively to pass laws whilst uncodified nature of the constituiton can blur the actual powers of a PM.

Eg: Fusion of powers has established an 'elective dictatorship' with government able to pass many laws, such as Blair who only lost one vote in 10 years.

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List the 8 constitutional reforms implemented by t

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Human Rights- Gives a system of positive rights to the UK citizens, constitutional Judiciary.

Electoral reform- Introduction of PR electoral systems in London, Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament, with the UK becoming a multi-party system.

Referendums- They have increased direct political participation as the public have only one vote in politics every five years. Eg: Mayoral elections and devolution.

Devolution- Dispersed power and established new assemblies, with Westminster retaining powers in economy, defence and foreign relations.

Freedom Of Information- Introduced a form of liberal democracy with more rights to the public with access to information and more rights.

House of Commons and Lords (2) - Commons PM questions one hour every week with a streamlined legislative process and more scrutiny on bills, Lords removal of all hereditary peers bar 92 and joint committee making recommendations for reform.

Judicial reform- New supreme court and seperation of Lord Chancellors roles.

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What are the arguments in favour of the view that

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Human Rights- It has constrained the actions of Government. Eg: David Blunkett social security reforms.

Electoral Reform: Has contradicted the wishes of the UK Parliament. Eg: Free tuition in Scotland and reduced the chance of an elective dictatorship.

Referendums- It can be argued that a new convention has emerged by which major constitutional issues should be agreed by referendum.

Devolution- Has led to different policies around the UK and could lead to independance.

Freedom of Information- Has ended secretive government which characterised the UK constitution and has led to thousands of requests.

House of Commons/Lords- Has allowed more scrutiny on the PM through longer questions whilst Lords has been mordernised and debate is still in progress.

Judicial Reform- Has reduced the influence of the executive and the legislative and removed the fusion of powers through establishing a new court. Eg: The Supreme Court.

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What are the arguments in favour of the view that

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Human Rights- Lack of entrenchment with Charter 88 making it less credible. Eg: 'Glorification of terrorism' act made it less credible.

Electoral reform- Electoral reform to PR still not used in the general election, low turnout.

Referendums- Referendums are not binding on the government and they can be manipilated through the wording of the question, whilst they are not always used. Eg: Signing of Lisbon treaty and the war on Iraq.

Devolution- Only Scotland has primary legislative power which could be withdrawn to Westminster, it has temporarily changed but not indefinately.

Freedom of Information- Government still able to deny access for security reasons.

House of Commons/Lords- There is still few checks on the power of the executive with the question on an elective dictatorship still remaining. Whilst the reluctance to introduce full Lords reform demonstrates government interest in maintaining centralised power.

Judicial reform-Minor issue compared to fusion with executive and legislative.

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Name six sources of the UK constitution?

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Statute law- This is made in Parliament and is a formal or written law which always prevails over all other laws, however not all statute laws are of constitutional significance. Eg: The Parliament Act of 1911 established the commons as the dominant chamber of Parliament.

Common Law- This is a body of laws based on tradition, custom and precedent, these have been created and refined in courts. Judgements become a reference for future law making. Eg: In Common law was impossible for a man to **** his wife as they were '1 unit'.

Authoratitive works- Established practical and legal texts that are accepted as works of authority on UK constitution; authors have no authority. Eg: Erskine May's 'treatise of the law, privileges proceedings and usage of Parliament' guide to rules on Parliament.

Royal Prerogative- The Royal Prerogative were formal powers of the Crown that are now controlled by government ministers including the ability to: declare war, negotiate treates.

Conventions- Conventions are rules or norms that are considered to be binding, the UK constitution is regarded to be flexible, its key components are based on convention.

EU laws and international treaties- On 1st January 1973 the UK became part of Europe, with judgement becoming part of the UK constitution. Eg: The Maastricht treaty 1993.

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