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The Constitution of the United Kingdom

The Constitution of the United Kingdom

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Published by nicola_mcauley
The British Constitution
The British Constitution

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Categories:Types, Research, Law
Published by: nicola_mcauley on Sep 13, 2012
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10/14/2013

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The BritishConstitution
 
 Aconstitutionis a set of laws on how a country is governed. TheBritish Constitutionis unwritten in one single document, unlike theconstitutionin America or the proposedEuropean Constitution, and as such, is referred to as an uncodified constitution in the sensethat there is no single document that can be classed as Britain's constitution. TheBritish Constitutioncan be found in a variety of documents. Supporters of our constitution believethat the current way allows for flexibility and change to occur without too many problems.Those who want a written constitution believe that it should be codified so that the public asa whole has access to it – as opposed to just constitutional experts who know where to lookand how to interpret it. Amendments to Britain’s unwritten constitution are made the same way – by a simplymajority support in both Houses of Parliamentto be followed by the Royal Assent. The British Constitution comes from a variety of sources. The main ones are:
Statutes such as the Magna Carta of 1215 and the Act of Settlement of 1701.Laws and Customs of Parliament; political conventionsCase law; constitutional matters decided in a court of lawConstitutional experts who have written on the subject such as Walter Bagehot and A.V Dicey.
 
There are two basic principles to theBritish Constitution:The Rule of Law
 
The Supremacy of Parliament
The Rule of Law
The Rule of Law is an aspect of theBritish Constitutionthat has been emphasised by A VDicey and it, therefore, can be considered an important part of British Politics. It involves:The rights of individuals are determined by legal rules and not the arbitrary behaviour of authorities.There can be no punishment unless a court decides there has been a breach of law.Everyone, regardless of your position in society, is subject to the law.
 
The critical feature to the Rule of Law is that individual liberties depend on it. Its successdepends on the role of trial by jury and the impartiality of judges. It also depends onPrerogative Orders.There are three Prerogative Orders:Certiorari calls a case up from an inferior court to a superior one to ensure justice is done.Prohibition prevents an inferior court from hearing a case it does not have the power tolisten to.Mandamus orders an inferior court to carry out its duties.
 
How relevant to 21stBritish Politicsand Society is the Rule of Law?
 
Supporters of a written and clearly defined constitution believe that as society has had itsliberties more and more encroached on by central government, the Rule of Law is moreimportant now than ever. They claim that central government has sought and seeks toundermine the three basic tenets of Dicey’s code with an increase in things such as:the Official Secrets Actthe attempt to remove an individual’s right to trial by jurythe activities of the Secret Service (especially after September 11th)removing what were considered traditional rights (such as the removal of the workers right atGCHQ to belong to a trade union under the Thatcher government (though brought backsince 1997)The gagging clause that now has to be signed by those in the Civil Service after the ClivePonting and Belgrano issue shortly after the end of the Falklands War 
 
However, individuals still retain a great deal of personal freedom and many individuals willnever be affected by the Official Secrets Act or the activities of Britain’s secret services(though they may not know if they are being investigated or not!) It is agreed with some justification that a modern society needs bodies like MI5 and MI6 simply because there are atiny number of individuals who wish to subvert society and have to be dealt with accordingly. A law-abiding individual, it is argued, need never worry about such organisations. Also there are bodies that theoretically oversee the activities of government agencies andtheir work – such as the Council of Tribunals and the Parliamentary Commissioner. It isargued that these bodies help to protect the rights of the individual at the expense of anyincursions into their personal freedom by government agencies
The Supremacy of Parliament
The development of the supremacy of Parliament stemmed from the English Civil War andhas expanded ever since and is a dominant theme inBritish Politics. Those MP's whorepresent the public viarepresentative democracy, have been handed the power to assess,pass or reject legislation. In every sense, the supremacy of Parliament is the backbone of British Politicsand is only possibly threatened by aspects of the work of theEuropeanCommissionand other European Union institutions. Parliament can pass, repeal and alter any of Britain’s laws. This is one of the major powersthat a government has. The Conservatives lead by Margaret Thatcher banned trade unionsat GCHQ believing that they had no place in an organisation that is of great importance toBritain’s national security. This decision was reversed in 1997 by the newly elected Labour government of Tony Blair. Parliament also has the power – after going through its ownparliamentary processes – of altering its own laws.In theory there is no body that can declare a law passed by Parliament as unconstitutional -though the full impact of theEuropean Courtis not yet known in 2002. Courts have taken ongovernment decisions over technicalities such as when Michael Howard as Home Secretarysent the Jamie Bulgar killers to prison for an unspecified term. The Courts deemed thisillegal as they decided that only a person working within the judiciary had the right to come

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