At the moment, the British constitution is unwritten, although it may be less misleading to call it uncodified as various elements of the constitution are written down. The term uncodified means the constitution is not all kept in a single document, but is spread about in various pieces of legislature. It also means British laws, policies and codes are developed through statutes, common law, convention, and recently European Union law. Although the British constitution does not have a clear set of rules in one single document, it does clearly state in various documents where political power is held, and how it is allocated.
One advantage of the uncodified constitution, which would probably be considered the main one, is that it is flexible and easy to change. This means if a new situation has to be dealt with by policies or laws, they can quickly be changed to do so. All that is needed for a policy to be changed is for Parliament to agree. Unlike written constitutions, old policies and other constitutional practices don’t make it difficult to deal with new situations, as new ones can be developed when the need arises. Opponents of a written constitution have argued “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! it could be said that the unwritten constitution of Britain has served us well up until now, and there is no call for it to be changed. The fact that America has only had twenty-seven amendments since their constitution was written in the eighteenth century only enforces how difficult it is to change laws and policies in a codified constitution. It may be difficult in cases like these to find laws that fit with modern day crimes and other situations that need to be dealt with by laws and policies.
As our country is used to being able to change laws and policies as easily as we can, we must consider how we would deal with a codified constitution which makes it so much harder to get legislature changed. Before deciding whether we should switch to a written constitution, it may be interesting to assess the reasons why other countries do have codified constitutions, and similarly, why we do not. Most codified constitutions are written to mark a new beginning in history. Many took place after a revolution or a war, and Britain is considered to have been stable for a long time.
We remained free of the revolutions that appeared to sweep the continent in the nineteenth century and our country has reformed freely over the years, rather than in one go. For countries such as the USA and Australia, they developed their written constitution as a sign of independence and freedom for their citizens. As well as this historical reason why we have an uncodified constitution, there is also a conceptual reason. This is the sovereignty of our Parliament; the idea that there is no superior authority to Parliament.
They make all the decisions, and have the final say on any pieces of legislature to be amended or developed. A. V. Dicey, who was the first to lay out the idea of the sovereignty held by the British Parliament, said that the roots of the idea “lay deep in the history of the English people and in the peculiar development of the English Constitution”. This means he believes that when the constitution was originally decided to be uncodified, they wanted the parliament to have the last say on political matters. If the parliament is to keep sovereignty, there is no point in having a written constitution.
It seems Dicey believed it was written in history for the parliament to have the highest power, and that having a codified constitution would be going against the ideas of our predecessors. if we were to develop a written constitution, power would have to be separated through government, as it is in the USA. A constitutional change in America requires two thirds of Congress or three-quarters of the states, meaning in England if a law or policy were challenged, it would have to be voted on by more than one governmental body before it could be changed.
Since Britain joined the European Union in 1973, however, it could be said that the Parliament no longer has complete power. As power was devolved upwards to Europe, downwards to devolved bodies, Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies and the Scottish Parliament and sideways to the judges, it could already be said that the constitution is moving closer to being codified without anyone meaning it to do so. If we are already this close to developing a codified constitution, why not go the whole hog and actually draw one up? It has been said that British Politics is in a state of crisis.
The liberal democrats have already called out for the public to help to draw up a written constitution, which they believe may be able to tackle problems in the Government, as it will set new and clear limits on the power of the executive. They also believe bringing in the help of the public will bring the country closer to a democracy, giving the public a better say in how the country is run, instead of it all being decided by the richest, most educated among us. I believe our country is not in need of a reform. We do not need to change out constitution to a written one.
Although it can be argues we may become a more democratic country with a written constitution, I do not feel there is a need for this to be done. Britain is a very modern, up to date country, and I feel it is better for us to be able to change laws, policies and codes as they are needed. This would be made a lot harder with a codified constitution, as they are rigid, and legislature is less likely to make it through the voting system needed for a codified constitution, so we would have a lot less amendments made to the laws, like in America.