The UK's constitution

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What is a constitution?
A system of rules which state how a state should be governed and which seek to establish the various powers of branches of government & regulate the relationships between branches
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Give an example of the constitution regulating the relationships between our branches of government
Under the Salisbury Covention the HoL cannot veto or prevent any piece of legislation stated in the government's manifesto from going through
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What type of a constitution do we have?
An uncodified constitution
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What type of a constitution does the USA have?
An codified constitution
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What is a unitary constitution?
A constitution which states that all power resides with parliament
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Do we have a unitary constitution?
Yes
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What is a federal constitution?
It outlines the powers that reside with the states and the powers which reside in government
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How many amendments have there been to the US constitution?
27
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Where do cabinet members typically come from?
The legislature
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Is there separation of powers in the UK?
No
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Which country has strict separation of powers?
The USA
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What did Montesquieu argue?
That the best safeguard to freedom was to ensure that those people who are making the laws cannot scrutinise or enforce those laws, also those who enforce those laws (judiciary) should be neutral
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What our our six sources of the constitution?
Common law, royal perogatives, works of authority, statute law, conventions and laws and treaties of the EU
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Under the Salisbury Convention, what is the HoL not allowed to do?
Veto or scrutinise any legislation stated in the manifesto
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What are the three features of our constitution?
Uncodified, unitary and flexible
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What are the three features of the US constitution?
Codified, federal and rigid
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Why should we have separation of powers?
It prevents one institution from becoming too powerful
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What type of a constitution do most countries have?
A codified constitution
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What does codified mean?
All in one place
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What is statute law?
Acts of parliament, any law that has been passed by parliament and is enforceable in courts of law
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What is an example of statute law?
Habeas Corpus Act of 1679
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What did the Habeas Corpus Act do?
Gave protection against wrongful imprisonment
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What is common law?
Laws made by judges, customs that have been adopted by the courts
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What does common law arise from?
The idea that a decision made by one court must be followed by all others
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What is an example of common law?
Civil liberties
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What are the royal prerogatives?
A set of privileges or powers held by the monarch that have been passed to government
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What is an example of a royal prerogative?
The power to declare war and to manage the civil service
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What are conventions?
Traditions, a practice which through custom is considered an appropriate behaviour
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What is an example of conventions?
Individual and collective ministerial responsibility
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What are works of authority?
Documents that are used to help work out appropriate constitutional behaviour
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Give an example of a work of authority used in our constitution
Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice and A.V Dicey
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What is Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice often referred to as?
The parliamentary bible
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Give an example of a treaty or law from the EU that has now become a part of our constitution
The Maastricht Treaty
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What did the Maastricht Treaty do?
Created the European Union
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What was Charter 88?
A pressure group
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What did Charter 88 demand?
Constitutional reform such as a Bill of Rights
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What did the European Convention on Human Rights do?
Gave the right to life, the right to liberty and security of person, freedom of thought and expression and freedom of peaceful assembly
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How can judges have an influence legislation?
They can declare it incompatible with the European Court of Human Rights
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Can courts automatically overturn legislation?
No
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What happens if parliament does not amend a legislation that is incompatible with the European Court of Human Rights?
A citizen can go to the ECHR is Strasbourg
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Give an example of a court ruling that a person had had their human rights abused based on the ECHR?
Sara Cox being awarded damages after Sunday People printed nude photos of her, thus infringing her rights
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What did the Political Parties, Elections and Referendum Act do?
Established an independent electoral commission, set a upper limit on the amount that parties can spend on campaigns, required parties to produce accounts containing details of donors and banned foreign donations to parties
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Give an extreme example showing the lack of separation of powers in the UK
Lord Irvine being head of the judiciary, speaker of the HoL and a member of Blair's cabinet
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What are the functions of a constitution?
They establish distribution of power, relationships between political institutions, define limits to government, specify the rights of citizens, define nature of citizenship and establish ways of amending the constitution
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What is constitutionalism?
The principle that government operates within a set of constitutional rules and not in arbitrary fashion
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What are the features of a codified constitution?
Written in a single document, a single source, constitutional laws are superior to other laws and special arrangements exist for these laws, it often comes after a historic moment e.g. war and entrenched rights
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What is dualism?
The idea that constitutional laws are more important than normal laws
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What are the features of uncodified constitutions?
Not written in a single document, number of different sources, constitutional laws are not superior to other laws, organic, more flexible and unentrenched rights
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What does sovereignty mean?
Ultimate power within a political system
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What is legal sovereignty?
The power to make laws, where this location of power is theoretically
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What is political sovereignty?
The location of power in general terms, where power lies in reality
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What is a unitary constitution?
Where legal sovereignty lies in one place
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What is a federal constitution?
Where legal sovereignty is divided between bodies
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Given an example of a unitary constitution
UK, France, Italy
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Give examples of federal constitutions
USA, Germany and India
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What are UK statutes?
Laws passed by the UK parliament which have a constitutional effect
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Give examples of statute law
Human Rights Act 1998, The Scotland Act, Freedom of Information Act
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What year was the freedom of information act passed?
2000
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Give examples of conventions
The Salisbury Convention and collective cabinet responsibility
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What are conventions?
Rules that are not legally enforceable but which are considered binding and so are virtually laws
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What are conventions?
Rules that are not legally enforceable but which are considered binding and so are virtually laws
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What is common law?
Unwritten laws that can be enforced by courts
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Give an example of a tradition that has formed part of our constitution
The annual Queen's speech
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What is parliamentary sovereignty?
The principle that legal sovereignty lies with parliament and that parliament is the ultimate source of political power
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What is quasi federalism?
An expression which suggests that the devolution process looks like federalism but is not federalism as no sovereignty has been divided
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Who is legally sovereign in the UK?
Parliament
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Who is sovereign at elections?
The electorate
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Do referendums grant sovereignty to the people?
No because they are not binding
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What is an argument that we have not given all of our sovereignty to the EU?
We still have the opportunity to leave if we want to
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How has legal sovereignty declined in recent years?
Sovereignty transferred to devolved administrations, sovereignty to EU, increasing use of referendums give sovereignty to people, HRA
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What is pooled sovereignty?
A term used to describe how legal sovereignty within the EU is shared
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When did Britain join the EU?
1973
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What are the impacts of EU membership?
EU laws are superior to UK laws, UK courts must enforce EU laws, final appeals go to the European Court of Justice, parliament has surrendered sovereignty to the EU in certain specific policy areas
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Give examples of areas of policy that the UK parliament has surrendered to the EU
Trade, consumer law, employment law, agricultural subsidies and fishing regulation
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What are the arguments in favour of a codified British constitution?
Clarity for citizens, limiting government, safeguarding the constitution, provision of entrenched rights and strong judiciability
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What are the arguments against a written constitution?
Our constitution is flexible, it is organic and can grow with the people, it prevents a strong unelected judiciary, makes government accountable as they cannot use the constitution as an excuse
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What is devolution?
A process of transferring power from parliament to devolved governments
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Name the reforms under the Labour after 1997
Devolution, elected mayors, the HRA, Freedom of Information Act, House of Lords reform, Electoral Reform and the constitutional reform act
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What was the biggest HoL reform under Labour?
The abolition of 92 hereditary peers
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Why did Labour reform the constitution?
Modernisation, electoral advantage, democratisation and anti-conservatism
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Card 2

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Give an example of the constitution regulating the relationships between our branches of government

Back

Under the Salisbury Covention the HoL cannot veto or prevent any piece of legislation stated in the government's manifesto from going through

Card 3

Front

What type of a constitution do we have?

Back

Preview of the front of card 3

Card 4

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What type of a constitution does the USA have?

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Card 5

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What is a unitary constitution?

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