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The UK Should Have A Written Constitution
At present in Britain we have no written constitution, but instead a collection of laws and customs which govern our political system. Along with Israel, we are one of only two democracies in the world not to have a written constitution.
The Constitution is a set of rules which governs the actions of government ensuring that they are lawful. It implies something far more important than the idea of legality which requires official conduct to be in accordance with prefixed rules. More importantly, a constitution will vary with society. This essay considers both sides of the arguments in order to reach a judgment on the issue.
One of the most important arguments to consider is the fact that enshrining our constitutional laws and customs in one document would provide clarity for those working within the system and for those who wished to scrutinise it.
Another argument in favour of a written Constitution is Checks and balances. At the moment our judiciary is relatively weak in its ability to act as a check against parliament. A written constitution would increase its power.
Many people believe that at present, if a party has a majority in the House of Commons they can change our constitution. An example of this is Blair’s reform of the House of the Lords. He was able to completely change half of our legislature without a referendum or other means of checking consensus. A written constitution would act as a safeguard as it would make it difficult to change. For example you would have to have a 2/3 majority in both houses or it would have to be passed by referendum.
A further argument for a written constitution is Protection from extremists. A written constitution would offer protection if an extremist came to power and wanted to disregard democratic procedures.
Moreover, without a written constitution, the UK has no Bill of Rights to protect its citizens from an over powerful state. The existing Human Rights Act provides only weak protection, with judges only able to rule that new laws are "non-compliant" with the Act - the government can ignore such rulings if it wishes. The Human Rights Act can easily be (and has been) amended by a simple majority in both Houses of Parliament. A written constitution with a proper Bill of Rights would provide much stronger protection for the rights of the citizen.
It is a clear fact that Britain has survived very well until now with an unwritten constitution. The public is not clamouring for a written constitution because it does understand the conventions which govern political procedure.
Looking at things from another perspective as to why the United Kingdom's Constitution should remain unwritten lies in the doctrine of Parliament Sovereignty. Parliament is supreme and can make or break laws. No parliament can bind its successors or be bound by its predecessors. If the UK were to adopt the notion of having a written constitution then this doctrine would be totally pointless and would not be able to execute itself as it has done it in the past for the reason that written constitutions are ruled upon by judges. In Britain our judges are unelected and it is therefore undemocratic to take power away from our elected representatives and give it to judges who tend to be quite reactionary.
One of the benefits of the current system is its flexibility. If they have a political mandate from the people, the government can reform the constitution, as with the example of the House of Lords. If it is necessary to have a two third majority in both houses, this measure would never have been passed; neither would devolution. In countries like the USA, it is nearly impossible to change their constitution. How do we know that what is best for us now will still be best in a hundred years time?
It is a fact that the UK is a unitary state with Parliament sitting at Westminster being the only body competent to legislate for the UK and all laws in the UK including laws relating to the constitution may be enacted, repealed or amended by the Queen in Parliament. There is no specific procedure for changing the law, that is, very important law can be changed by simple majority. This simply means that the decision making process is not muted in any way by past legislation.
Outside of these obvious points, the fact that the United Kingdom has an unwritten constitution has caused concern since there is no one document that stands alone but this is what makes it so unique. It has somehow managed to function quite efficiently and past the tests of time in being a long lasting system of governance. Where concerns arise, the nature of this unwritten constitution has proved to iron out itself and work quite nicely.
As was mentioned earlier, every constitution will vary with society. The UK has had long-established doctrines, principles and codes of conduct that are embedded in the minds and hearts of its people. It has made the society into what it is today and above all the obstacles faced (as in every other system, whether the constitution is written or unwritten) they have managed to develop one of the best legal systems in the world and have an excellent system of governance.
Many people believe that the system of an unwritten constitution works and works well. It has been created throughout the years that have seen the UK grow into what is today. It has been developed based on not only great events but great minds of the region giving it a distinct flavor of pride. Nothing is like its kind and it is definitely functional. With that in mind one must ask himself, "Why should I fix that which is not broken"?
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