Basic Structure of the Constitution
Constitution = a parliamentary democracy
Who does the constitution comprise of?
Comprises the Queen as Head of State, the legislature (Parliament), the executive (Crown) and the judiciary
Who is the source of all legal power? What can't they do?
The Crown is the source of all legal power but cannot make law, create courts, raise an army or impose taxes without consent of Parliament.
What is the Multi-layered fragmented government model?
Government powers are increasingly split between many different bodies both within the UK and outside the UK (EU). It is both a legal and a political model. The constitution is unitary since ultimately power is concentrated in the central legislature of Parliament.
The UK has no legal concept of the state. - the nearest we have is the concept of the Crown.
Sometimes, the state refers to the whole system of government.
The Legislative Branch
What kind of lawmaking power does Parliament have? Unlimited.
Who makes primary law? The Queen in Parliament
What is the limitation to this? The law must first be proposed by Parliament
What is needed for all Acts of Parliament? Royal assent under convention.
Who is Parliament comprised of? Non-elected House of Lords and elected House of Commons
What are the three main functions of Parliament?
- Together with the Queen it is the primary legislature
- Provides the government with money (taxes cannot be raised without the authoriy of Parliament.
- The executive is politically accountable to Parliament and ministers must appear before it to justify their actions.
Which is the superior house? House of Commons
Are political parties required by law or convention?
There is no law or convention required for the existence of political parties and in law they are private associations.
How are leaders chosen?
They are chosen under internal party arrangements, thus the party rather than the electorate chooses the prime minister (normally the leader of the largest party).
The Executive Branch
Who is the core executive?
The Crown - includes the Queen as its formal head, ministers (holders of political Offices) and civil servants.
Who is the the prime minister?
The person who commands a majority of the House of Commons, the leader of the executive, who is appointed by the Queen (by convention).
How might a minister be required to resign?
Following a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons. (Though, in law, the prime minister could be dismissed by the Queen)
What is the Cabinet?
A committee of 25 senior ministers chaired by the prime minister, responsible for government policy, coordinating the work of government departments and major decisions.
The Executive Branch (Continued)
What powers does the Crown have?
Common law powers under Royal Prerogative which can be exercised independently of Parliament. (Include making treaties and deploying the armed forces.) Also has ordinary powers such as owning property and making contracts.
How may these powers be exercised?
Must either be directly exercised by ministers or by the Queen on advice of ministers.
What is a civil servant?
A body of appointed Crown servants with the dual responsibility of providing impartial advice to the government and carrying out the day to day management and operations of the executive.
Who are ministers responsible to?
Parliament - collectively: for government policy in the sense that a minister who disagrees must resign. Individual: must explain conduct of his or her department
Who is a civil servant responsible to?
The minister in charge of his or her department.
How are courts created?
Under statute and their powers are determined by statute.
How do the courts uphold the rule of law?
By means of judicial review of government action and by virtue of the fact that government officials are not generally protected against liability in the courts. Under the Human Rights Act  courts can scrutinise government decisions and Acts of Parliament for conformity with rights derived from the ECHR.
What can't courts do under the HRA (1998)?
The courts cannot overturn an Act of Parliament
Who heads the judiciary?
Previously the Lord Chancellor, but the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 transferred many of his functions to the Lord Chief Justice.
The Supreme Court
What is the Supreme Court?
The highest appeal court.
When was it created?
In 2005 by the Constitutional Reform Act
What does it comprise of?
The equivalent of 12 full-time Justices.
Until 2005, what was the highest appellate body?
The Appellate Committee of the House of Lords
What appeals does the Supreme Court hear?
Appeals in both public law and private law from all the UK jurisdictions other than Scottish criminal cases.
Superior and Inferior Courts
Which courts are superior?
The High Court (which deals with major civil cases), the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
What are judges of these courts refered to, and what are the benefits?
Judges of these courts are called Senior Judges. They have strong protection against dismissal and reduction in salary.
Which courts are inferior?
All other courts.
What are the setbacks for judges in these courts?
Lesser degree of security of tenure and a lower level of protection against personal liability.
What other systems exist?
Numerous special tribunals composed of both lawyers and lay persons, deciding specialised matters allocated to them by particular statutes. They are simplified courts of law and provide simpler, cheaper and more expert ways of deciding relatively small or specialised disputes from the ordinary courts.
The Privy Council
What powers does the Privy Council exercise?
Both legislative and judicial powers.
How are members appointed?
By the Queen on the advice of the prime minister
Who does the privy council comprise of?
Over 400 members, including Cabinet ministers, senior judges and worthies with the approval of the prime minister.
What is the role of the privy council?
Formal - its approval is needed for certain important exercises of the royal prerogative, known as Prerogative Orders in Council.
What is the fundamental weakness of the UK constitution?
It focuses power in the centrol executive through the medium of parliamentary sovereignty.
What attempts have been made at reform?
There has been no systematic attempt at a constitutional reform. It has, however, moved in the direction of increasing the use of formal rules. These rules are not confined to legal rules but include codes which lack clear methods of enforcement and have been made in a haphazard way.
- Devolution (Sepetember 2014 Scottish Independence was defeated)
- (2013) a referendum on the voting system was defeated.