The UK constitution

Sources, principles, parliamentary soverignty, purposes, reforms of the UK constitution

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  • Created by: Ella RR
  • Created on: 27-05-14 18:09


Statute Law 

  • an Act of Parliament - outlines the distribution of government powers.
  • The Acts of Parl 1911 - limited the power of the HOLs. 
  • Other Acts outline our rights within a democracy (Representation of the People's Act)
  • SL is regarded as taking precedent over all other sources (linked to parliament soverignty)
  • Membership of the EU has limited the importance of SL.

Common Law

  • Establishes the customs and precedents developed through the actions of judges
  • a lot of original law concerning civill liberties and a good deal of consumers protection rights are done by common law
  • the royal prerogative (power to declare war and treaties) is also based in CL.
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Doctrines and Principles

Parliamentary Sovereignty

  • Parl can make/unmake any law in the UK - Parl can legislate on any subject
  • Only parl can make UK law - can make retrospective laws
  • Parl cannot bind future Parls - cannot be overturned by any higher authoriy
  • NOT rooted in statute law but common law

The rule of law

  • No one can be punished without trial
  • no one is above the law - all subject to the same justice
  • the general principles of the Court (personal freedoms) result from the decisions of judges (case law), not from acts of statue or executive order
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How is Parliamentary Sov threatened?

H - RAs

E - u - there's no threat as we've simply pooled our sov (Still in control) - we can leave whenever - more treaties = more power the EU has (Maastricht treaty)

D - evolution

E - xecutive Dominance - parl legally soverign but authority derives from the electorate - parl sov - not popular sov - fusion of power = gives Exec more power

R - eferendums

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Main Purposes

  • provide legitmacy to those in power
  • protect freedom
  • encourage gov stability
  • draw attention to the goals and values that characterises a particular state
  • federal governments - spheres of influence
  • create a fresh start
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Sources (2)

Treaties and EU law

  • 1972 Eurpoean communities Act, European law and regulations were given precedence over our own national laws


  • tradtitions/customs that have evolved over time, will not stand in court

Works of authority

  • Political books - A.V. Dicey's 'An introduction to the study of the law of the Constitution' 1883
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Doctrines and Principles (2)

Unitary state

  • UK is unitary opposed to federal
  • Ultimate power in the UK is held in the central government
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Salisbury Convention

The HOL should not vote down or wreck bills that seek to enact a manifesto commitments of the governing party

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Constitutional changes since 1997


  • estrinned most of the provisions of the ECHR in the UK law (right to life, liberty & security, fair trial and family life etc)
  • change? derogation from Article 5 of HRA ('01-'05) was overturned. No Bill of Rights and duties were proposed but no legislation was introduced


  • involves the transfer of powers from central gov to subnational institution. UK = Quasifederal features
  • change? Proposal for regional assemblies in England was dropped after '04, 'no' vote in referendums in NE England
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Constitutional changes since 1997 (2)


  • elected mayor of London and London assemblies, elect mayors in some English areas
  • change? Only 12 local authorities adopted the elected mayor model

Electoral reform

  • New electoral systems of devolved assemblies, Europeans Parliament and elected mayors
  • change? no action of 1998 - Jenkens report on electoral reforms for Westminister
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Criticisms of these changes

  • Not radical enough e.g. HOLs reform
  • Devolution - still allows Scottish MPs to vote on English matters, creates differentiaion
  • HRA - derogations - e.g. Anit Terrorism, Crime & Security Act 2001. Gives judiciary too much power - can almost make laws without any being passed
  • Decentralisation - lack of support - only 12
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T. Blair and the changes

  • lacked coherence, said he'd do things then went back on them (referendum on PR) lack of interes
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G. Brown and the changes

  • More focused on changing parliament
  • Giving more power
  • Proposals were more intellectual coherence under Brown
  • Proposals drive from the commitment of each 
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Features of the 'governance of Britain'

  • Limiting the powers of the executive - exec's power in appointing bishops and judges was reduced
  • Making the executive more accountable - Constitution Reform Act '10 - created statutory basis for the civil service and laws
  • Reinvigorating democracy - voting - produced little in practice - '10 election manifesto Labour promised to hold referendums on HOL and the voting system
  • Addressing relationships between the citizen and the state - '09 'Rights and Responsibilites' Green paper was a low-key document with few real suggestions
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New Constitutional Settlement

  • The Westministr model is no longer a satisfied term
  • Reforms have been introduced that have added to/changed the key principles of the traditional constitution

Key principles of a tradtional constitution

  • All of the major institutions have been affected by changes made
  • moved from majoritarian democracy -> consensual democracy 
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Westminister model

  • Parl is soverign, fusion of powers and power centralised
  • Our tradtional constitution
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Coalition constitutional changes

  • Fixed term Parliaments Act (2011)
  • The Wright committee on Reform of the HOC (2009) was fully accepted by the coalition gov, including enhancing backbench power by a Backbench Business committee
  • The AV referendum was lost by 30% to 70% against
  • Protection of Freedoms Bill - this sets out things such as; an end to ID cards, removing police stop & search powers, the protection of trial by jury, the strenghtening og the FOI Act, a reduction in pre-charge detention for terrorist suspect to 14 days
  • A commission was created to investigate the case for a Bristish BoRs. This launched 18th March 2011. Final report came out Dec 2012 but said they could not agree on what to do
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