The British constitution is a set of principles and laws helping in the governing of the United Kingdom. In contrast to many other countries and nations, the United Kingdom has no main written constitutional documentation. The major parts of this constitution are written within the court judgments, treaties as well as the statutes. Other unwritten source of the UK constitution includes the royal prerogatives as well as the parliamentary conventions on constitution.
The key principles comprised in the British constitution comprise of
- The Rule Of Law And The Parliamentary Supremacy
Based on the twin pillar constitutional book written by A. V Dicey, the United Kingdom constitution is founded on two pillars. The first pillar is the policy of parliamentary sovereignty and the second is the rule of law. Parliamentary sovereignty dictates that the parliament is the ultimate law making organ.
- The Unitary State Philosophy
UK comprise of four differently distinct countries: Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In as much as these countries are distinct, it acts as a unitary state but not federation or confederation. The constitution otherwise states that each of the individual countries posses their own executives and legislatures. The authority of all these organs however solely depend on the Act of parliament made at the supreme parliament.
- The Constitutional Monarchy
Constitutionally, leadership succession of the British government is hereditary. The constitution further spells out that the royal prerogative powers are vested in the supreme. In matters of power exercising, the supreme must always consult with the prime minister as well as the other ministers.
According to the documentary published by the government in the year 2004, there are various domestic powers well spelt out in the constitution. These powers include
- Appointment of a Prime Minister
- Appointment of other ministers
- The power on the parliament summoning, proroguing and dissolution.
- The power to accord or refuse Royal sign to bills
- Appoint powers to bishops and archbishops of the Church of England.
In addition to the domestic powers, there are also constitutional powers governing the foreign affairs. These powers comprise of
- The power to refuse and make treaties
- The power to call for War and Peace
- The power to send the Armed Forces overseas
- The power of states recognition
- The power to receive and credit diplomats
- The Prime Minister And The Government
The constitution states that the prime ministerial; position is decided on by the sovereign. The party leader who commands the majority of the commons house qualifies the appointment to be the prime minister. The government is then made up of the prime minister together with the other ministers. The prime minister together with the ministers serves as members of the House of Lords although the prime minister is normally a member of the house of the commons.
All the four individual countries have their own judiciary systems otherwise there is also a supreme court for handling all appeal cases of the UK. The Supreme Court is headed by the court’s president assisted by the deputy president. According the constitution, all the members of the Supreme Court are recommended by the sovereign.
Of all the four countries, the Church of England is only based in England. Based on the constitutional act of settlement, the supreme governor of the England church is the sovereign ex officio. The authority to pass laws regarding the church is a sole role of the parliament. The parliament has the powers to appoint church bishops and archbishops to the Church of England.
Sources of the British constitution
The first source of the British constitution is the Acts of the parliament. Laws that have received the approval of the parliament qualify to form part of the constitution. The Sovereign, the House of Commons as well as the House of Lords forms part of the parliament and are directly responsible for passing the Parliamentary Acts. The moment a bill is approved and assented by the sovereign, it automatically becomes a constitutional law. Act of parliament has therefore become one of the most important sources of the British constitution.
The second source of the British constitution is based on the treaties. The most important treaties have formed part of the British constitution through the incorporation of the domestic laws. The treaties have to be approved by means of parliamentary act. An example of a treaty forming part of the constitution is the Treaty of Union of 1707 which led to the creation of unitary state. The 1707 treaty was signed by the governments of Scotland and England and was approved by the two parliaments. Through the treaty alongside other acts, there came into existence the Great BritainKingdom.
The third source of the British constitution is the European Union Law. Like any other European Union members, the British Government has to comply with the statutes governing the EU members. The European Union laws are supreme and so have been approved by the House of Lords to be valid part of the British constitution. The greatest regard to the European Union laws is pegged on their being international laws. These laws therefore depend on very tight treaties internationally signed.
Another source of the British constitution is the common laws. There is a legal system of frame work existing in the Northern part of England, Wales and Ireland. This legal system has got some common hybrid laws making up the constitution. These laws extend to cover any government that has similar constitutional limitations to the representative assembly.
In addition, another source of the British constitution is the ancient constitutional conventions. Such conventions spell out that the sovereign has the powers to advice the ministers but not enforced by any law court. These laws are strictly observed and therefore form part of the British constitution.
The last source of the British constitution is the works of authority. These spill to cover the interpretations of the UK constitutional aspects. Most of these sources were written back in the early twentieth and even nineteenth century constitutionalists. The works of authority are part and parcel of the British constitution since they are rarely amended by the parliament.
Recent Constitutional Reform in Britain
Amongst the resent constitutional reforms include the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. This reform alters the House of Lords’ structure. The reform also brought about the separation of the legislative and the judicial functions. The reform clarified that all the responsibilities which solely belonged to the Lord Chancellor can now be shared between Lord Speaker, Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice. Another reform that took place in 2009 is the transfer of the Law Lords to the Supreme court of the UK and all roles abolished as law Lords.
Through the lead of the justice ministry, there was a constitutional reform in 2007 when Gordon Brown took over as the prime minister of UK. The reform led to the launching of the Governance in Britain. Another recent constitutional reform is the Act 2010 constitutional Reform and Governance. This reform was in the form of constitutional legislation and advocated for the eradication of impartiality as well as raises the integrity of the Civil service in UK. This reform further demanded that treaties be tabled in parliament before they are approved.
In 2010, a coalition government formation called for major reforms in the constitution so as to fit with the situation. The constitutional reform was geared towards meeting a coalition agreement. As a result of the coalition government, the parliamentary system of voting as well as the constituencies Act 2011 was passed. Another act passed in 2011 was the fixed term parliaments Act 2011. The Acts are focused at reducing the number of MPs in the House of Commons by 50. The constitutional reform of 2011 advocated for the introduction of referendum as a means of changing the MPs election system. The coalition government has also made a constitutional reform on legislation in the House of Lords.
Evaluation of the Effectiveness of the British Constitution
In comparison to the written constitution, the British constitution has got various merits as well as drawbacks. The first draw back of the British constitution is evident in the ineffective separation of powers. The constitution does not clearly spell out which rights that can be overruled by the parliament. The fact that the parliament can overrule even fundamental rights is a weakness in the British constitution.
Even though British government has a well structured parliament with legal sovereign, there is greater political weakness in checking the governmental excessive powers. The excessive powers of the government are not constrained by the human rights. The greatest demerit of the unwritten constitution is that the citizens are not aware of their democratic rights as well as whom they really are in the government. The written constitutions on the other hand provide the ordinary people with clearly defined and documented statutes.
In as much as the British government has no unwritten constitution, it is still better off because at least it has a constitution though not written. The British constitution is effective in its unwritten structured and is well followed to the letter. There is a well spelt out legal structure in the constitution thereby validating the entire set of the British laws.