The UK Constitution

  • Created by: freya 123
  • Created on: 28-04-18 16:25

Development of the consitution

-differnet from most modern societies and governments 

-elements can be tracked back over a thousand years 

-balance of power between crown and parliament has been balanced over the years

-lacks a single founding document 

Overall aims and reforms: 

-reduce the powers of the monarchy, and extent those of parliament 

-increase the rights and freedoms of the oridinary citizen

-draw together the component parts of the UK 

-increase the power of the elected HoC at the expense of the unelected HoL 

-define the UKs relationship with the institutions that later evolved into the EU 

1 of 16

Important documents

-Magnat Carta, 1215, stated the principle that no one should be deprived of liberty or property without due process of law 

-Bill of Rights, 1689, included privisions for refular parliaments, free elections, and freedom of speech within parliament 

-Act of Settlement, 1701, established the right of parliament to determine the line of succession to the throne 

-Acts of Union, 1707, basis of the UK gov, until legislation to devolve Scotland in 1997

-Parliament Act, 1911, prohibited lords from delaying money bills, power of veto is only in place for two years

-Parliament Act, 1949, reduced the delay period to one year 

-European Communities Acts, 1972, EU law takes priority over UK law, expected to be repealed after the UK leaves the EU 

2 of 16

Diceys Twin Pillars

1885, victorian constitutional theorist, A.V Dicey identified two key principles of the UK Constitution: 

Parliamentary Sovereignty- the principle that parliament can make, amend or unmake any law, and cannot bind its successors or be bound by their predecessors 

Rule of Law- the principle that all people and bodies, including government, must follow the law and can be held accountable if they do not, everyone is entitled to a fair trial and no one should be imprsoned without due legal process, all citizens must obey the law and are equal under it, public officials are not above the law and they can be held to account by the courts, the judiciary must be independant of political interferance 

3 of 16

Statute Law

What is it? 

The body of law passed by parliament. Not all laws are constitutional, only those that affect the nature of the political system and citizes rights. It is the most important source as it is underpinned by the concept of parliamentary sovereignty. 


The 1998 Scotland Act, Governement of Wales Act, and Northern Ireland Act created developed legislative bodies, which were given some powers previously held by westminster. 

4 of 16

Common Law

What is it?

Legal principles laid down by judges in their rulings in court cases, which provide precedenst for later judgements. Important in cases where it is not clear how stature law should be applied in practise. 


The presumption that a person accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty. The medieval concept of Habeas Corpus is a common law protection against unawful imprisonment, which was converted to statute in 1679. 

Habeas Corpus is spanish for "You may have the body" meaning the person accused must literlly be at the trial, the "body" must be present. 

5 of 16

Conventions and Treaties

What are Conventions? 

Customs and practises that do not have legal force, but which have been broadly accepted over time. Can be challenged and changed by an act of parliament. 

The principle, established since 2003 Iraq war and subsequent parliamentary votes, that except in an emergency, the governement will not order military action without prior parliamentary approval. 

What are Treaties? 

Agreements with other EU member states which UK governments have signed since joining what is now the EU in 1973. Following the 2016 referendum, preperations are being made for the UK to leave the EU. 

Arguably the most important treaty was the Maastricht treaty 1992, which transformed the European Community into the European Union. 

6 of 16

Authoritative works

What is it? 

Textbooks that explain the working of the political system. A useful guide, but lacking legal standing. 


Erskine May's Parliamentary Practise, first published in 1844 and regularly updated, explains the rules of parliamentary life. 

7 of 16

Pressure for Reforms in the 1990s

-demand for modernisation 

-modernisation of british institutions 

-more open to demands from pressure groups 

-the experience of conservative rule 

-eighteen years of conservative rule, new labour needed to make changes in order to seperate themselves 

8 of 16

Changes under Labour 1997-2010

-house of lords reform

-electoral reform, forms of proportional representation introduced into devolved powers and EU parliament elections 


-the human rights act 

-the creation of the supreme court, 2005 costitutional reform act

9 of 16

Changes under the coalition 2010-2015


-wales recieved another referendum and direct law making powers, scotland recieved more powers from the scotland act 

-england, english votes for english laws 

-fixed term parliaments act 

-reform of the house of commons, backbench buisness committee 

-recall of MPs Act 

10 of 16

Devolution in Scotland

 -set up in edinburgh in 1999, 129 members, elected every 4 years, AMS, Holyrood 

-devises and implements policy on matters devolved to scotland, proposes annual budget to parliament 

-first minister, nicola sturgeon 

-education, economic development 

-tourism, sport and culture 

-agriculture, fisheries and forestry 

-health and social services, housing 

-police and fire services, transport 

-local government, justice, environment and planning 

11 of 16

Devolution in Wales

-set up in 1999, assembly members elected by AMS, assembly not parliament 

-culture, including welsh language, and sport 

-planning (except major energy infrastructure) 

-agriculture, fisheries and forests 

-local government 

-health, fire and rescure services, transport 



-economic development 

-education and training 

12 of 16

Devolution in Northern Ireland

-set up after 1998 good friday agreement, power sharing executive

-period of suspension, 2002-2007 

-members elected by single transferable vote 

-currently in recess due to breakdown of relations between unionists and nationalists 


-welfare and pensions, local government 

-health and social services, justice and policing, agriculture 

-culture and sport, environment ad planning, housing


-economic development  

13 of 16

Arguments for extending devoltion in England

-england is the most properous and heavily populated part of the UK 

-EVEL makes scottish mps second class at westminster, weakining untiy of the UK 

-devolution has led to policies to meet the different needs of the Scottish, welsh and Northen Irish but not different english 

-strong regional identity, eg northern vs southern 

14 of 16

Arguments for extending devoltion in England

-england is the most properous and heavily populated part of the UK 

-EVEL makes scottish mps second class at westminster, weakining untiy of the UK 

-devolution has led to policies to meet the different needs of the Scottish, welsh and Northen Irish but not different english 

-strong regional identity, eg northern vs southern 

15 of 16

Argument against devolution in england

-englands size and wealth would mean it would dominate a federal structure 

-EVEL has not caused breakdowns in relations 

-most english people dont see such a distinction needed to creat edevloved local powers, eg north south divide isnt that extreme 

-not a storng enough sense of identity to create regional bodies 

16 of 16



Bloody fantastic

Similar Government & Politics resources:

See all Government & Politics resources »See all The British constitution resources »