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Published: Fri, 02 Feb 2018
A constitution is a set of fundamental principles
To evaluate the above statement we first must understand what a constitution is and know its purpose. There are many definitions of a constitution and this in turn helps discover if the UK does or does not have a constitution. S.E Finer defines a constitution as:
‘Constitutions are codes of rules which aspire to regulate the allocation of functions, powers and duties amongst the various agencies and officers of the government and to define the relationships between these and the public. ‘
Furthermore the Dictionary defines it as
‘A constitution is a set of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is governed. These rules together make up, i.e. constitute, what the entity is. When these principles are written down into a single document, they may be said to comprise a written constitution. ‘
If we analyse these two definitions then the UK in fact does and does not have a constitution. The first statement explains very well what the UK has; with numerous rules and laws that relate to the government and the people they rule for. There is no stipulation for a single or indeed even written document that would collate all the rules and laws of the land. The second statement expresses the need for there to be a single document encompassing all these requirements which the UK does not have. This leads to an interesting and wide ranging debate about constitutions which can now be discussed.
A constitution is usually written down and in one single document for example the USA who have the ‘United States Constitution 1787’ and France who have the ‘the Constitution of the Fifth Republic in France which was approved in 1958. There are however some exceptions to this, Israel, New Zealand and the UK do not have a single document which holds their constitution. Consequently this is why some people assume that these countries do not have a constitution. These countries are said to have an uncodified constitution as not all of the rules are written in a single document.
From the above statements we get a picture of what a constitution is and some of its purposes. It can then be written or unwritten as is the case with the UK written in the form of statutes, treaties and court judgements, although there are unwritten rules which are presented through parliamentary conventions and royal prerogatives. The other end of the spectrum is the US constitution where it is all written on a single document encompassing. The written and unwritten aspects stem from the time of the Magna Carta, which itself was an example of the written aspect of UK constitution:
‘Many of the rules are to be found in legislation, including such famous enactments as Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights, as well as modern statutes like the representation of the People Act 1983 and the Human Rights Act 1998.’
We can continue to use the example of the UK and US to look at another aspect of constitutions relating to how easily they can be changed. The UK has a ‘flexible’ approach to its constitution whereby the ruling government can change the laws and rules with and sometimes without the consent of Parliament and the people; an example of this is the Animals Act 1972, which was repealed. The US has a ‘rigid’ constitution and it cannot be changed by ruling powers and may need a referendum of the people to change any aspect of it, this is known as ‘entrenchment’.
Another example that can be used to show that the UK has a constitution is in relation to the Bill of Rights Act 1688, which prevented harsh rulings or acts against the people of the land. This with the Magna Carta, Parliamentary Acts 1911, 1949 and others accumulate to provide a constitution for the UK.
The UK constitution is further described by Dicey relating to three doctrines namely The Rule of Law, Parliament Supremacy and The Separation of Powers. The Rule of Law was ‘first used in reference to a belief in existence of law possessing higher authority— whether divine or natural— than that of the promulgated by human rulers which imposed limits on their powers’ . Its aim was to hold everyone accountable to and equal in the eyes of the law and is seen as a pillar of constitutional thought. Parliament Supremacy was described in relation to UK constitution in which the Parliament has unlimited law making power so it can make laws, cannot be questioned by another body. Parliament is unable to bind its successors. Finally the Separation of Powers is described as a pillar of liberal thought and prevents the ruling party from gaining excessive powers and making laws to provide such powers. The concept of this is set in the constitutional reform act 2005 The separation of powers is illustrated in Article 16 of the (French) Declaration of the Rights of Man 1789 states that ‘a society where rights are not secured or the separation of powers established has no constitution’
In conclusion I believe that the UK does have a constitution, which has come about as an amalgamation of many years of making and changing laws to meet and suite the needs of the people the laws govern and relate to. There is no single document that holds all this information, it does however exist in complex rulings and Laws, which are written and unwritten, some which are rigid and some that are flexible.
Word Count: 1000
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