Is the UK Constitution 'fit for purpose'?

AS Edexcel Government and Politics Unit 2

Useful for a 25 or 40 mark essay answer.

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Introduction

The UK Constitution is unique in it's development, it is made up of a number of sources. These include statute law (Acts of Parliament), common law (judge made law), Royal Prerogative (the monarch's power devolved to the PM), EU Laws and treaties, conventions (rules built from tradition) and works of authority (books of constitutional importance).

As a result, the UK's constitution is described as uncodified as it doesn't appear in one single accessible legal document. Therefore, there are significant voices that call for the constitution to be 'modernised' in the form of a codified constitution. These voices include pressure groups, e.g. Charter88.

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Advantages of the UK's current uncodified constitu

Flexibility

The UK constitution is flexible in it's nature. This allows Parliament to Create, Amend or Rescind any element of the UK's constitution. This is done by means of a significant simple majority in Parliament, Government's with a mandate aren't limited in their ability to change governing arrangements. This allows Parliament to react to events and issues significantly quicker, i.e. The Conservatives were able to make changes such as devolution without recause to complicated amendment procedures.

E.g.

1) In response to the "terror" threat, Britain were able to extend detention without trial by a simple majority in the HoC and a new Act of Parliament- Terrorism Act 2006 and 2011.

2) Labour govt. were able to incorporate the ECHR into UK law via a simple Act of Parliament.  

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Advantages of the UK's current uncodified constitu

Evolved Naturally

The UK constitution is one that has evolved naturally over British history. It is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, despite this it has met the changing needs of British society. Its uncodified nature has meant that we are not encumbered with relics of the past, i.e. the right to bear arms- US 2nd Amendment.

E.g. House of Lords Reforms - the hereditary element has been all but removed (92 hereditary peers remain), without removing the purpose of the HoL as a revising chamber.

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Advantages of the UK's current uncodified constitu

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it"

The UK constitution works well and there is no appetite for significant changes that can't be met by the current constitution.

E.g. The success of the SNP in Scotland indicates an appetite for greater devolution for Scotland, this is recognised in the Scotland Act 2012.

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Advantages of the UK's current uncodified constitu

Parliamentary Sovereignty

Retains the central of the UK's constitution, the unitary element has Parliament (elected representatives) as its heart as the ultimate source of political authority.

This means that elected representatives of the people have the final say, rather than an unelected, appointed court, e.g. Supreme Court in the USA (9 Justices).

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Disadvantages of UK Constitution

Accessibility

It is not accessible to the citizens of the UK. This is because it isn't written down in one single legal authoritative document, therefore, it is difficult for citizens to identify their rights within the current constitutional arrangement.

The British Constitution doesn't have any clearly defined individual rights. There is a reliance on other institutions for the guarantee of rights e.g. ECHR. There is no clearly defined Bill of Rights for the individual.

E.g. In the USA, rights are clear. 1st Amendment, Freedom of Speech.

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Disadvantages of UK Constitution

Anachronistic (out of time/ old fashioned)

The UK constitution is uncodified, all other major democracies and new democracies have clearly defined written constitutions. E.g. USA, Czech Republic.

The UK retains a hereditary element in the 92 peers in the HoL and in the monarchy.

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Disadvantages of UK Constitution

Too Flexible

The UK Constitution can be considered as being too flexible, as it is not entrenched and it can be changed too often. Although Parliament has de jure (legal) sovereignty, government hold de facto (of fact/ actual) sovereignty through its majority in the House of Commons and the use of the whipping system. Therefore, many changes may be made to suit short term political advantage.

E.g. PMs have been able to dissolve Parliament and call elections at will, i.e. Blair election in 2001 and 2005 after 4 years.

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Comments

Maria

This is good!

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