The main characteristics of the UK constitution
The UK constitution has 4 main characteristics which include:
- Not entrenched
- Constitutional monarchy
- Royal preoragative
- Parliamentary govt and sovereignty
- Party Government
- Unitary Government
The UK constitution is UNCODIFIED:
- This is because it is not contained in a single document.
- Instead, it has a variety of sources.
- Therefore, it has statutes and books of authority or EU treaties.
- Most of this is unwritten in the form of:
- Common law
The UK constitution is not entrenched because:
- It is not specially safeguarded against change, or does not have certain arrangements for amendment, which is more complex than the normal legislative process.
- Instead, the UK constitution can be easily and quickly changed by Parliament, simply through an Act of Parliament.
- This is because Parliament is sovereign and there are no restrictions placed on how Parliament can amend the British constitution.
Constitutional Monarchy and royal prerogative
Since 1688, Britain has been a CONSTITUTIONAL MONARCHY:
- This is where Parliament restrained the Monarch's ability to raise taxes.
- Before 1688, the Crown enjoyed almost absolute power.
- Thus, Constitutional monarchy means that many actions are taken in the name of the monarcg, and not actually exercised by them.
- Now, the monarchy play a ceremonial role, which is limited.
The removal of power from the Monarch is known as ROYAL PREROGATIVE:
- This happened the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
- This is where the power of the monarchy has gradually eroded.
- The Monarch is constrained by fixed constitutional principles.
- Royal prerogative ensured that all law making powers was passed to Parliament and that the remaining prerogative powers were taken over by the prime minister, who is the Head of Govt.
Parliamentary govt and sovereignty
- In the USA, there is a strick separation between the power and membership of the gvernment and the legislature.
- Whereas, the UK has no separation between Parliament and Government.
- The government members are drawn up from Parliament.
- We expect the govt to control the legislature by manipulating its majority in the HOC.
- Parliament grants authority to govt ministers, making them accountable.
- This is known as Parliamentary govt.
- This is where the ultimate power to make laws only lies with Parliament, meaning the govt have to accept the final word.
- Parliament retains a reserve power to veto such proposals, and can dismiss a govt, forcing an election, through a vote of no confidence:
- E.g. In 1979, James Callaghan's Labour govt was defeated by the HOC and was forced to resign.
- This is where the British constitutional system can only operate in the context of Party control, such as the arrangements concering the operation of HOC and the cabinet, depends on the single party's control.
- Collective responsbility, mandate and manifesto, govt and opposition, and patronage all depend on the reality that one party wins an election outright and forms a govt alone.
- However, this changes in times of a coalition govt.
The UK is a unitary political system:
- This means that legal sovereignty is located at the centre, in one body: Parliament.
- However, a great deal of power has been decentralised through devolution, and much sovereignty has been delegated to the EU.
- Despite this, Parliament ultimately has the final say in all political and constitutional matters.