Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Constitution of the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom has an uncodified constitution, which means it is not all contained in a single document. There are several sources of the constitution, some being written down and some not. The notion that the Constitution of the United Kingdom is unwritten is not strictly correct.
The key principles of the constitution are its underlying features. The two most important principles have existed for a very long time, since the creation of Parliament. They were identified by the constitutional lawyer, A.V. Dicey as the twin pillars of the constitution:
- Parliamentary sovereignty (Parliament is the supreme law making body), and
- Rule of law (everyone is equal before the law).
Other important principles are:
- Unitary state (power lies at the centre),
- Constitutional monarchy, and
- European Union membership, the principle that EU law takes precedence over UK law. This principle was famously identified in the Factortame case in which the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 was overturned. This appears to undermine the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty, but Parliament could still withdraw from the EU by repealing the European Communities Act 1972, so in a way Parliamentary sovereignty is preserved.
There are several sources of the constitution. Not all of the sources are written down (for example, some are contained in conventions), but it is incorrect to say the UK has an "unwritten constitution" because much of it is written down.
The main sources of the constitution are:
- Acts of Parliament (written)
- Conventions (unwritten)
- Common Law (unwritten)
- Royal Prerogative (unwritten)
- EU law (written)
- Treaties (written)
- Works of authority (written)
Among the many key statutes or conventions are:
- Magna Carta (1215)
- Habeas Corpus Act 1679
- Bill of Rights 1689
- Claim of Right 1689
- Act of Settlement 1701
- Act of Union 1707, joining England & Scotland to form Great Britain
- Act of Union 1800, joining Great Britain & Ireland to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
- Reform Act of 1832
- Reform Act of 1867
- Reform Act of 1884
- Parliament Acts (of 1911 and 1949)
- Irish Free State (Agreement) Act , Irish Free State Constitution Act , and Irish Free State (Consequential Provisions) Act (all 1922) recognize the Irish Free State as no longer part of the United Kingdom
- Statute of Westminster 1931
- European Communities Act 1972
- Human Rights Act 1998
- Scotland Act 1998
- Government of Wales Act 1998
- House of Lords Act 1999
- Constitutional Reform Act 2005
- Numerous conventions, including:
- ... that, since the reign of Queen Anne, the monarch has not refused to grant the Royal Assent to Bills passed by Parliament.
- ... that the monarch will not dissolve Parliament without the advice of the Prime Minister.
- ... that the monarch will ask the leader of the dominant party in the House of Commons to form a government.
- ... that the monarch will ask a member of the House of Commons (rather than the House of Lords or someone outside parliament) to form a government.
- ... that all ministers be drawn from the House of Commons or the Lords.
- ... that the House of Lords will accept any legislation that was in the Government's manifesto (the 'Salisbury Convention').
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