The Constitution

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A constitution comprimises the laws, rules and practices by which a state is governed. It specifies the powers of the governing institutions, while also setting out the formal relationships between them, and the relationship between citizens and the state. It provides the framework for the political system, establishing the main institutions of government, determing where decision-making authority resides and protecting the basic rights of citizens (often in a Bill of Rights).

In liberal democracies, the constitution provides an important defence against the abuse of power by the state and its institutions. It upholds a system of limited government in which a system of checks and balances prvents over-mighty government, and the rights of the citizen are protected from arbitrary state power.

Examples:

  • The British constitution is 'uncodified'. This means that it is not written down in one single document but is composed of a variety of written and unwritten laws and guidelines.
  • The US and French constitution are 'codified'. This means that it is written in one single document, in America, this is known as the Bill of Rights.The provisions of a codified constitution are entrenched, meaning that there are special procedures for its amendment whcih make it more difficult to change than ordinary legislation.

Sources of the British constitution

Statute law is a written law passed by a legislature on the state or federal level. Statutes set forth general propositions of law that courts apply to specific situations. A statute may forbid a certain act, direct a certain act, make a declaration, or set forth governmental mechanisms to aid society.

Common law includes the legal principles that have been developed and applied by UK courts. The courts interpret abd clarify the law where there is no clear statute law. Common law is thus legal precendent made by judges concerning, for example, the rights of homeowners to tackle intruders who enter their property.

Conventions are rules or norms that are considered to be binding. They are neither condified nor enforces by courts of law; it is long usage that gives conventions their authority. The British constitution is considered flexible because some of its key elements are based on convention. By convention, the monarch my assent to Acts of Parliament: if the queen were to refuse, a constitutional crisis would ensue. Recent governments have created what may become seen as new conventions. Gordon Brown announced that the UK would not declare war without a parliamentary vote. Holding referendums on devolution and electoral reform has raised expectations that major

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