A Constitution is a set of laws, rules and practices providing the framework for the political system and specifying how a state should be governed; a practical expression for the principle of limited government. For most people, especially abroad, the United Kingdom does not have a constitution at all in the sense most commonly used around the world — a document of fundamental importance setting out the structure of government and its relationship with its citizens. All modern states, saving only the UK, New Zealand and Israel, have adopted a codified constitution of this kind, the first model being that of the United States of America in 1788. However, in Britain we certainly say that we have a constitution, but it is uncodified; it doesn’t exist in one single document.It is one that exists in an abstract sense, comprising a host of diverse laws, practices and conventions that have evolved over a long period of time.
Munro described the British Constitution as a ” Child of wisdom and chance”. Thomas Paine and Alexis de Tocqueville remarked that England had no Constitution. This is due to the unwritten parts such as Conventions and customs of British society. There are six basic sources of the British constitution and they are:Statute LawCommon LawRoyal PrerogativeConventionAuthoritative TextsEU Laws and International Treaties Statute law is made in Parliament and is a formal or written law which always prevails over all other laws, however not all statute laws are of constitutional significance.
Statutes passed by the British Parliament from time to time dealing with various matters as demanded by the exigencies of time, constitute an important source of the English constitution. The Parliament Act of 1911 which established the commons as the dominant chamber of Parliament, others include Human Rights Act 1998 – bringing the ECHR into British Law & The Freedom of Information Act 2000 – Granting citizens’ rights to view most official documents. By the Tudor period it was accepted that Parliament had to approve taxes and could issue Acts which became law.
The attempt of Charles I to raise taxes without Parliamentary approval and use the judges that he appointed to enforce this was one of the reasons for the civil war. After the exile of James II, who also tried to rule without consent, Parliament passed the Bill of Rights in 1688, which remains one of the most important Acts of Parliament with constitutional significance. This charter made the parliament the supreme law making body of the land. The meetings of parliament should be convened regularly.It also provided a list of individual rights to the citizens of england.Common Law is a body of laws based on tradition, custom and precedent, these have been created and refined in courts. Judgements become a reference for future law making.
Eg: The royal prerogative whereby arbitrary powers of the monarch are exercised by the Prime Minister & Individual rights other than those covered by the ECHR, being guaranteed by common law. After the Norman Conquest, the courts set up by the English monarchs began to create a single body of law to apply across the kingdom which would be superior to the local laws and customs that had existed before. This common law developed through the decisions of judges in cases to build up a set of legal precedents. Judges also incorporated Statutes issued by the Monarch which mostly codified existing areas of law. Magna Carta, forced by the aristocracy on King John in 1215, stated limits to the power of the Monarchy and established that subjects could not be imprisoned or punished without having gone through the proper legal system. Magna Carta is the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot. (Lord Denning.
It required King John of England to proclaim certain liberties to his subjects and also made that no free man can be punished except through the law of the land; defined the organisation and powers of the Parliament (Great Council) and made it mandatory on the part of the King to get the prior approval of the Parliament for levying any taxes . The Magna Carta made clear that the King is not above the law of the land.Conventions are rules or norms that are considered to be binding, the UK constitution is regarded to be flexible, and its key components are based on convention. They do not have the force of law and the courts will not rule against a departure from a convention. There are many key conventions.
The Salisbury Convention; the HoL does not obstruct proposals contained in the governments most recent manifesto. Collective cabinet responsibility establishes that all members of the government must defend all official government policy or resign. The problem with conventions is that they can easily be ignored if political circumstances mean that the key politicians want to. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George, wanted to raise money in the 1909 Budget to pay for old age pensions, and for more battleships to keep up with Germany. Backed by a large Liberal majority in the House of Commons he decided to tax land and pub licences as landowners and the drinks trade both gave strong support to the Conservatives. The Prime Minister, Asquith, knew that the Lords, even with its huge Conservative majority, could not reject the Budget because there had been a constitutional convention for 200 years that the Lords would not interfere with a Government’s Budget. But the Lords did reject the 1909 Budget. This created a constitutional crisis leading the Liberal Government to introduce a Parliament Bill which would turn the convention into statute lawJudges may from time to time consult the books written by past constitutional experts.
These are not part of the constitution as such and certainly do not have the force of law, but, given that the British Constitution is not codified, may shed light on what the constitutional position has been on issues. They may be used by judges to help them in discovering what the main principles are in a case, especially one involving judicial review. They may also be used in general discussion about constitutional issues. Walter Bagehot in The English Constitution, 1867, defined the role of the monarchy in a democracy age as the right to be consulted by the Prime Minister, the right to encourage a course of action and the right to warn of the consequences of a course of action. These principles have been discussed recently to judge whether the suggestion of Prince Charles that he would still speak on issues that he cared greatly about if he were King, would be within the Constitution Royal Prerogative as an aspect of constitutional practice serves as the source of the English constitution. The Royal Prerogatives includes the functions like power to declare war, to make treaties, to pardon criminals & to dissolve parliament.
Prerogative powers of the monarch have been eroded. All law making passed to Parliament and the office of the PM instead of monarch. A sense that the monarch is constrained by constitutional principles, monarch still has powers as Head of State but the PM carries out most of her functions. EU laws and international treaties are also of constitutional importance. On 1st January 1973 the UK became part of Europe, with judgement becoming part of the UK constitution.
Eg: The Maastricht treaty 1993. In conclusion, the primary sources of the British constitution are s; Statute Law, Common Law, Conventions, The Royal Prerogative, Authoritative Texts and EU Law and international treaties