It is not true
to say, as people often do, that Great Britain
does not have a constitution
. Rather, it is not a codified constitution
: There is no one place or text
where the basic relationship
s of state
are all set out neatly together.
The practical political implications
of this system
are in fact quite substantial:
- There are no entrenched laws so any legislation whatsoever can be passed with a simple majority in the House of Commons (The Lords can only delay legislation). Within months of Scotland's Dunblane Massacre hand guns were banned all over Britain due to the ease of passing Bills when there is political consensus. The British system (with very strongly led and controlled Parties) seems to mean that such consensus can sometimes be reached and 'enforced' quite easily...Or is it just that we aren't such weapon-crazed lunatics?
- There is an effective 'Fusion of Powers' (As opposed to a Separation of Powers), with many political figures residing in two or three of the 'Power Groups'. The most important breach is that the Executive (Government) comes from the Legislative (Parliament). The Prime Minister sits in and picks his Cabinet and Ministers from Parliament (Nearly entirely the Commons these days). Of course, in hope of improving their career prospects (A Govnt. position), all but a few MPs remain 100% loyal to their party's leadership.
- There is no entrenched Bill of Rights in Britain. This has various impacts on the system. Undisputedly Judges in Britain are less powerful and, compared to the USA for example, quite 'unpoliticised'. This is due to the absence of over-riding constitutional law and the absolute supremacy of Parliament. The Judiciary can under no circumstances deem that an Act of Parliament is unconstitutional and will not be allowed. I should note, however, two things: The adoption of the European Convention on Human Rights into British Law. The Convention acts as a kind of Bill of Rights for British citizens, and there are procedures for British Judges to point out where other legislation breaks it's rules, but it remains only an Act of Parliament and is not entrenched. Secondly, in 1689 a Bill of Rights 1689 was adopted by Parliament following the 'Glorious Revolution'. It gave more power to Parliament over the Monarch, but is still only an Act of Parliament.
- A second and important (though it perhaps seems only logical) consequence of the absence of a Bill of Rights is how easily the rights of Britons can be ignored. Margaret Thatcher did an enviable job of proving this for us, please see my Civil Liberties node for further details.
- A last direct consequence which comes to mind is that Parliamentary/Governmental Terms in Britain are not of fixed length. General Elections can be held at any time the Prime Minister wished within a five year limit. This limit is of course not written anywhere and in theory it is enforced by the House of Lords.
The Six Sources of the British Constitution
are as follows:
- Statute Law Straight forward Acts of Parliament, E.g. Criminal Justice Act, 1994
- Common Law One power that British Judges do have is that to make 'Common Law' in unprecedented situations. Other Judges faced with similar circumstances should follow the previous decision.
- Royal Prerogative These are powers officially held by the Monarch, but in practice they are delegated to the Prime Minister. Examples are the power to confiscate land in emergencies and the power to give up or take away territory. This source is probably the most undemocratic and outdated.
- Convention Well okay, perhaps I was a bit hasty in awarding the coveted 'Antiquated Award' to RP. One convention that is followed is that General Elections are always held on Thursdays.
- Works of Authority These are old, large books written by 'Constitutional Theorists' and are used sometimes to establish procedure. An example is A.V. Dicey's An Introduction to the Study of the Constitution written in 1885.
- Legislation of the European Union The most recent addition to the list, and to many - I hesitate to say conservatives - I hesitate to say traditionalists - oh sod it, and to many Miserable Tory Bastards the most controversial. This includes EU treaties that Britain has signed and Directives. In one sense these laws are superior to Britain's own Acts of Parliament, but on the other hand, would not the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972 end their significance?
It is interesting to consider which of the above list
is most Undemocratic
. And which one would Britain
, given the choice
? My Euros are on numero six.
Up the Tory Bastards
s for The People
's Democratic Will