UK GOVERNMENT - The Constitution


The Constitution

In the UK there is no single document which defines the UK constitution and there are no laws that are supreme. Essentially, the parliament is supreme and constitutional rules have developed over time. This means that the constitution can be easily changed if the people, Parliament and government wish. The UK constitution is not entrenched as Parliament can change it by an Act. There are no limits on the competence of Parliament although generally, democratic countries have bills that prevent the government from exploiting civil liberties.

Codified constitution: A constitution contained in a single document that was created at a particular time. It contains a set of laws that are superior to all other laws and they cannot be amended except by a special procedure that safeguards them.

For a constitution to be codified: -

  • It is contained in a single document

  • It has a single source

  • The constitutional laws are distinguishable from other, non-constitutional laws

Functions of a constitution:

  • Determine how political power should be distributed within the state and the balance of power between government and parliament.

  • Establish the political processes that make the system work, such as the relationships between institutions and the rules that govern how they operate.

  • States what the limits of governmental power should be (the competence of government).

  • Assert the rights of the citizens against the state

  • Establish the rules by which nationality is established (defines the territory that makes up the state).

  • Contains the rules for its own amendment, either through parliamentary statute or the evolution of unwritten rules (conventions).

Constitutional convention: An unwritten rule which is binding even though it is not law. A lot of the UK constitution is governed this way, they develop over time.

Development of the UK Constitution

  • Magna Carta, June 1215: Although few laws have survived apart from some principles that have turned into statute law, as many parts of the document were replaced or rewritten. It established that the rule of law should apply and the monarch should operate within the framework of law. It was signed between King John and his barons in resolution of a political crisis. It established equality for all, including Kings.

  • Bill of Rights, 1689: This was the legislative outcome of the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, whereby William of Orange and Mary replaced King James II. It was introduced due to King James II breaking his ‘contract’ and it binded the monarch to the rule of law. It effectively stated that Parliament was sovereign and would have the final word on legislation and the government’s finances. Royal prerogative powers have transferred to the office of the PM.

  • The Act of Settlement, 1701: It established the rules governing the succession to the throne. The monarch was also to be a member of the Church of England. It also established the monarch’s position as the ruler of the whole of the UK, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (Northern Ireland after 1921). Parliament appointed judges, the monarch could not reverse or pardon


No comments have yet been made