Nature of the constitution
The role of a constitution:
Constitutions have the following functions:
· They establish the distribution of power within a political system.
· They establish the relationships between political institutions and individuals.
· They define and establish the limits of government power.
· They specify the rights of individual citizens and how they are to be protected.
· They define the nature of citizenship and how individuals may obtain citizenship.
· They establish the territory which comes under the jurisdiction of the government.
· They establish and describe the arrangements for amending the constitution.
A constitution is a set of rules that establish and describe the distribution of power within a state, the procedures of government, the limits to government power and rights of citizens as well as rules on citizenship and constitutional amendment. A constitution may be codified or uncodified, federal or unitary.
Constitutionalism is a principle that government operates within a set of constitutional rules and not in arbitrary fashion. The constitutional rules may be written or unwritten.
***Typical Mistake*** Although the UK constitution is uncodified and cannot be found in a single document, this does not mean that it does not exist. It does, but is in many forms, some of them unwritten.
One written form is the Magna Carta of 1215. This was followed by The Bill of Rights in 1689 (This extended the power of Parliament) and, finally, the Reform Act of 1832 (This began the process of democratising British politics.)
Codified and uncodified constitution
A codified constitution has the following features:
· It is written in a single document.
· It is therefore said to have a single source.
· Constitutional laws are superior to other laws, a feature known as ‘dualism’
· Special arrangements exist to establish new constitutional laws, amend existing ones or repeal unwanted constitutional laws.
· Codified constitutions normally come into existence at one point in time, often after a national upheaval such as a revolution or the establishment of independence from a colonial master.
· Because the constitutional laws in a codified constitution are superior and safeguarded, they are said to be entrenched. That means they cannot be set aside or changed without special safeguarding arrangements.
An uncodified constitution has the following features:
· It is not written in a single document.
· It therefore has a number of different sources.
· Constitutional laws are not superior to other laws.
· The arrangements for changing the laws of the constitution are the same as those for passing other laws.
· Uncodified constitutions develop over time and are more flexible than codified constitutions.
· Because constitutional laws are not superior and can easily be changed, they are said to be unentrenched. They are not specially protected against change.