Sources of the Constitution

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Parliamentary Statutes

These are laws, passed by the UK Parliament, which have a constitutional effect.

Examples:

  • Human Rights Act 1998 brought the ECHR into UK law.
  • Scotland Act 1998 transferred considerable power to a Scottish Parliament. 
  • Freedom of Information Act 2000 gave considerable public access to official documents and information.
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Conventions

These are rules that are not legally enforcable but which are considered binding and so are virtually laws.

Examples:

  • The Salisbury Convention is a rule that the House of Lords cannot obstruct a proposal that was contained in the governing party's last election manifesto. 
  • Collective cabinet responsbility states that members of the government should always defend all government policies.
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Common Law

Similar to conventions, these are unwritten laws, but unlike conventions, they can be enforced by the courts.

Examples:

  • The use of prerogative powers by the prime minister results from common law. This means the prime minister has a range of powers, transferred from the monarchy, but not sanctioned by Parliament. 
  • Many individual rights and freedoms are established by common law.
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European Union Treaties

The UK has signed a number of treaties, mostly concerning the transfer of power and sovereignty from the UK to the EU.

Examples:

  • The Maastricht Treaty of 1992 and Lisbon (Reform) Treaty of 2007 both transferred power from the UK to the EU.
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Works of Authority

These are the writings of constitutional experts which describe constitutional practice. They have so much authority that they have become part of the constitution.

Examples:

  • The rule of law as described by 19th century constitutional expert, A.V. Dicey, establishes the principle of equality under the law.
  • The 2010 O'Donnell Rules were written by the Cabinet Secretary, Gus O'Donnell, as a guide to how to form a government with a hung parliament. 
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Traditions

These are customs and practices that have grown up over a long period of time. They are not legal, but tend to persist.

Examples:

  • The annual Queen's Speech is how the government's annual legislative programme is announced.
  • Parliamentary procedures are largely traditional. 
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