The Constitution (Optional)

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  • Constitutions
  • Characteristics of constitutions
  • Sources of the UK constitution
  • Principles of the UK constitution
  • Constitutional reform


Definition: Comprises the laws, rules and practices by which a state is governed. It defines the relationship between the state and the individual to ensure no abuse of power. 


  • To empower states. Establish authority.
  • Establish values, ideals and goals.
  • Provides government with stability by allocating duties, powers and functions.
  • Legitimise regimes.
  • Protect freedoms. Prevents the government from enroaching on the individuals freedom.

Characteristics of constitutions

Uncodified constitution - One in which the laws, rules and principles on how a state is to be governed are not gathered in a single document. Instead they are found in a variety of sources, some written (e.g. statute law) and some unwritten (e.g. conventions). Only UK, Israel and New Zealand have an uncodified constitution.

Features of an uncodified constitution:

  • Not authoritative - constitutional law has equal staus with staute law e.g. UK constitution is very easy to change
  • Not entrenched (flexible) - it can be changed trough the normal process for enacting statute law e.g. UK parliamentary sovereignty in which parliament can make, break and change any law they wish including constitutional law
  • Not judiciable - judicial review is limited; there is no single authoritative document that senior judges can use to determine if an action is unconstitutional.


An uncodified constitution can still be rigid e.g. in the UK, the principles of sovereignty, constitutional monarchy and royal prerogative have existed for centuries

Sources of the UK constitution

  • Statute law
  • Common law
  • Conventions
  • Membership of international organisations
  • Works of authority

Statute law

Laws created by parliament. Supreme form of law. Overule conventions. Most important source of rules and principles on the constitution because parliament is the sovereign body.


  • The Great Reform Act (1832) - extended voting rights
  • The Scotland Act (1998) - created a Scottish Parliament
  • The Human Rights Act (1998) - enshrined key rights in UK law
  • The Fixed-term Parliament Act (2011) - established fixed-term elections for Westminster

Common Law

Laws derived from decisions in court cases and from general customs. Applied by UK courts. Courts interpret and clarify UK law where there is no clear


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