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The constitution of the United Kingdom is the set of laws and principles under which the United Kingdom is governed.

The UK has no single constitutional document comparable to those of most other nations. It is therefore often said that the country has an "unwritten", uncodified, or de facto constitution.[1] However, the word "unwritten" is something of a misnomer as the majority of the British constitution does exist in the written form of statutes, court judgments, and treaties. The constitution has other unwritten sources, including parliamentary constitutional conventions and the royal prerogatives.

The bedrock of the British constitution has traditionally been the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty, according to which the statutes passed by Parliament are the UK's supreme and final source of law.[2] It follows that Parliament can change the constitution simply by passing new Acts of Parliament. There is some debate about whether this principle remains entirely valid today. One reason for the uncertainty derives from the UK's membership of the European Union.

Contents

Key principles

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Parliamentary supremacy and the rule of law

In the 19th century, A.V. Dicey, a highly influential constitutional scholar and lawyer, wrote of the "twin pillars" of the British constitution in his classic work An Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (1885). These pillars are, first, the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty; and, second, the rule of law. The former means that Parliament is the supreme law-making body: its Acts are the highest source of British law. The latter is the idea that all laws and government actions conform to certain fundamental and unchanging principles. One of these fundamental principles is of equal application of the law: everyone is equal before the law, including those in power.

According to the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, Parliament may pass any legislation that it wishes. By contrast, in countries with a codified constitution, the legislature is normally forbidden from passing laws that contradict that constitution: constitutional amendments require a special procedure that is more arduous than that for regular laws.[3]

The limits of the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty have been debated for a number of years. One purported example of its limits which is often given is provided by the category of statutes (such as the 1931 Statute of Westminster) that were passed to grant independence to former British colonies. It is said that it would clearly be beyond the power of Parliament to repeal legislation of this sort and to return the former colonies to British rule. The counter-argument is that Parliament could take such a step as a matter of British law even though it would have no physical means of enforcing it (just as, for example, Taiwan continues in principle to claim sovereignty over mainland China). One reply to this counter-argument is that a doctrine that allows such apparent absurdities must in itself be defective.

There are many Acts of Parliament which themselves have constitutional significance. For example, Parliament has the power to determine the length of its own term. By the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949, the default length of a term of parliament is five years, but this may be extended with the consent of both Houses. This power was most recently used during World War II to extend the lifetime of the 1935 parliament in annual increments up to 1945. However, the Sovereign retains the power to dissolve parliament at any time on the advice of the Prime Minister. Parliament also has the power to change the makeup of its constituent houses and the relation between them. Examples include the House of Lords Act 1999 which changed the membership of the House of Lords, the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 which altered the relationship between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and the Reform Act 1832 which made major changes to the system used to elect members of the House of Commons.

The power extended to Parliament includes the power to determine the line of succession to the British throne. This power was most recently used to pass His Majesty's Declaration of Abdication Act 1936, which gave constitutional effect to the abdication of Edward VIII and removed any of his putative descendants from the succession. Parliament also has the power to remove or regulate the executive powers of the Sovereign.[4]

Parliament consists of the Sovereign, the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The House of Commons consists of 646 members elected by the people from single-member constituencies under a first past the post system. Following the passage of the House of Lords Act 1999, the House of Lords consists of 26 bishops of the Church of England (lords spiritual), 92 elected representatives of the hereditary peers, and several hundred life peers. The power to nominate bishops of the Church of England, and to create hereditary and life peers, is exercised by the Sovereign on the advice of the Prime Minister. By the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 legislation may, in certain circumstances, be passed without the approval of the House of Lords. Although all legislation must receive the approval of the Sovereign (Royal Assent), no Sovereign has withheld such assent since 1708.

Following the accession of the UK to European Economic Community (now the European Union) in 1972, the UK became bound by European law and more importantly, the principle of the supremacy of European Union law. According to this principle, which was outlined by the European Court of Justice in 1964 in the case of Costa v. ENEL, laws of member states that conflict with EU laws must be disapplied by member states' courts. The conflict between the principles of the primacy of EU law and of parliamentary supremacy was illustrated in the judgment in Thoburn v Sunderland City Council,[5] which held that the European Communities Act 1972, the Act that initiated British involvement in the EU, could not be implicitly repealed simply by the passing of subsequent legislation inconsistent with European law. The court went further and suggested that the 1972 Act formed part of a category of special "constitutional statutes" that were not subject to implied repeal. This exception to the doctrine of implied repeal was something of a novelty, though the court stated that it remained open for Parliament to expressly repeal the Act[6]. It is politically inconceivable at the present time that Parliament would do so, and constitutional lawyers have also questioned whether such a step would be as straightforward in its legal effects as it might seem. The Thoburn judgment was handed down only by the Divisional Court (part of the High Court), which occupies a relatively low level in the legal system.

The House of Commons alone possesses the power to pass a motion of no confidence in the Government, which requires the Government either to resign or seek fresh elections (see below). Such a motion does not require passage by the Lords, or Royal Assent.

Parliament traditionally also has the power to remove individual members of the government by impeachment (with the Commons initiating the impeachment and the Lords trying the case), although this power has not been used since 1806.

Unitary state

Another important principle is that the UK is a unitary state rather than a federation (like the United States, Canada, and Australia) or a confederation (like Switzerland and the former Serbia and Montenegro). The authority of local and devolved bodies like the Scottish Parliament is dependent on Acts of Parliament, and they can in principle be abolished at the will of the British Parliament in Westminster.

A historical example of a legislature that was created by Act of Parliament and later abolished is the Parliament of Northern Ireland, which was set up by the Government of Ireland Act 1920 and abolished, in response to large-scale political violence in Northern Ireland, by the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 (Northern Ireland has since been given another legislative assembly under the Northern Ireland Act 1998).

Likewise the Greater London Council was abolished in 1986 by the Local Government Act 1985, and a similar institution, the Greater London Authority was established in 2000 by the Greater London Authority Act 1999.

Constitutional monarchy

Under the British Constitution, sweeping executive powers, known as the royal prerogative, are nominally vested in the Sovereign. In exercising these powers, however, the Sovereign normally defers to the advice of the Prime Minister or other ministers. This principle, which can be traced back to the Restoration, was most famously articulated by the Victorian writer Walter Bagehot as "the Queen reigns, but she does not rule".

The precise extent of the royal prerogative has never formally been delineated, but it includes the following powers, among others:

  • The power to appoint and dismiss the Prime Minister
  • The power to appoint and dismiss other ministers.
  • The power to summon, prorogue and dissolve Parliament
  • The power to make war and peace
  • The power to command the armed forces of the United Kingdom
  • The power to regulate the Civil Service
  • The power to ratify treaties
  • The power to issue passports
  • The power to appoint bishops and archbishops of the Church of England
  • The power to create peers (both life peers and hereditary peers).

The most important prerogative still personally exercised by the Sovereign is considered to be the appointment and dismissal of Prime Ministers. The last time this reserve prerogative was exercised by the monarch without reference to the Cabinet was with the appointment of Harold Wilson as Prime Minister in February 1974, despite his party not having a majority in the House of Commons. Queen Elizabeth II exercised her prerogative after extensive consultation with the Privy Council.

Queen Victoria was the last sovereign to veto a ministerial appointment. In 1892, she refused William Gladstone's advice to include Henry Labouchère (a radical who had insulted the Royal Family) in the Cabinet.[7]

The last sovereign to veto legislation passed by Parliament was Queen Anne, who withheld assent from the Scottish Militia Bill 1708.

The Royal Prerogative is not unlimited; this was established in the Case of Proclamations (1610), which confirmed that no new prerogative can be created and that Parliament can abolish individual prerogatives.

Prime Minister and Government

The Prime Minister is appointed by the Sovereign. When one party has an absolute majority in the House of Commons, the Sovereign appoints the leader of that party as Prime Minister. When there is a hung parliament, or the identity of the leader of the majority party is not clear (as was often the case for the Conservative Party up to the 1960s, and for all parties in the nineteenth century), the Sovereign has more flexibility in his or her choice. The Sovereign appoints and dismisses other ministers on the advice of the Prime Minister (and such appointments and dismissals occur quite frequently as part of cabinet reshuffles). The Prime Minister, together with other ministers, form the Government. The Government often includes ministers whose posts are sinecures (such as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster) or ministers with no specific responsibilities (minister without portfolio): such positions may be used by the Prime Minister as a form of patronage, or to reward officials such as the Chairman of the ruling Party with a governmental salary.

If the Commons votes against the Government on a matter of confidence, the Prime Minister must either resign (along with the entire government) or ask the Sovereign to dissolve parliament and call fresh elections. No formal vote of confidence in the Prime Minister or Government is required before the latter can take office. The Government usually resigns immediately after defeat in a general election: however this is not required: for example Stanley Baldwin's government lost its majority in the general election of December 1923, but did not resign until defeated in a confidence vote in January 1924.[8] A request by the Prime Minister to dissolve parliament is usually granted by the Sovereign: however the Sovereign may refuse such a request immediately after a general election, and instead invite another leader to form a government.[9]

The Prime Minister and all other Ministers must be members of Parliament. The Prime Minister is normally a member of the House of Commons: the last Prime Minister to be a member of the House of Lords was Alec Douglas-Home: however he resigned from the Lords and became a member of the Commons shortly after his appointment as Prime Minister. The last Prime Minister to serve a full administration from the House of Lords was Robert Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, who served until 1902.

Thus the executive ("Her Majesty's Government") is "fused" with Parliament. Because of a number of factors, including the decline of the Sovereign and the House of Lords as independent political actors, an electoral system that tends to produce absolute majorities for one party in the Commons, and the strength of party discipline in the Commons (including the built-in payroll vote in favour of the Government), the Prime Minister tends to have sweeping powers checked only by the need to retain the support of his or her own MPs. The phrase elective dictatorship was coined by former Lord Chancellor Quintin Hogg in 1976 to highlight the enormous potential power of government afforded by the constitution.[10]

The need of a Prime Minister to retain the support of her own MPs was illustrated by the case of Margaret Thatcher, who resigned in 1990 after being challenged for the leadership of the Conservative Party. The strength of party discipline within the Commons, enforced by the whip system, is shown by the fact that the two most recent votes in which a Government was defeated occurred in 1986 and 2005

Sources

Acts of Parliament

One of several shelves full of books about the UK constitution at a law library

Acts of Parliament are laws (statutes) that have received the approval of Parliament - that is, the Sovereign, the House of Lords and the House of Commons. On rare occasions, the House of Commons uses the "Parliament Acts" (the Parliament Act 1911 and the Parliament Act 1949) to pass legislation without the approval of the House of Lords. It is unheard of in modern times for the Sovereign to refuse to assent to a bill, though the possibility was contemplated by George V in relation to the fiercely controversial Irish Home Rule Act 1914.[11]

Acts of Parliament are among the most important sources of the constitution. According to the traditional view, Parliament has the ability to legislate however it wishes on any subject it wishes. For example, most of the iconic mediaeval statute known as Magna Carta has been repealed since 1828, despite previously being regarded as sacrosanct. It has traditionally been the case that the courts are barred from questioning any Act of Parliament, a principle that can be traced back to the mediaeval period.[12] On the other hand, this principle has not been without its dissidents and critics over the centuries, and attitudes among the judiciary in this area may be changing.[13]

One consequence of the principle of parliamentary sovereignty is that there is no hierarchy among Acts of Parliament: all parliamentary legislation is, in principle, of equal validity and effectiveness. However, the judgment of Lord Justice Laws in the Thoburn case in 2002 indicated that there may be a special class of "constitutional statutes" such as Magna Carta and the Human Rights Act 1998 which have a higher status than other legislation. This part of his judgment was "obiter" (i.e. not binding) -- and, indeed, was controversial. It remains to be seen whether the doctrine will be accepted by other judges.

Treaties

Treaties do not, on ratification, automatically become incorporated into UK law. Important treaties have been incorporated into domestic law by means of Acts of Parliament. The European Convention on Human Rights has, for example, to a considerable extent been incorporated into domestic law through the Human Rights Act 1998.

EU law

On one analysis, EU law is simply a subcategory of international law that depends for its effect on a series of international treaties (notably the Treaty of Rome and the Maastricht Treaty). It therefore has effect in the UK only to the extent that Parliament permits it to have effect, by means of statutes such as the European Communities Act 1972, and Parliament could, as a matter of British law, unilaterally bar the application of EU law in the UK simply by legislating to that effect.

On another analysis, which was first authoritatively articulated by the European Court of Justice in the 1963 case of Van Gend en Loos, EU law represents a new legal regime which is qualitatively different from other forms of international law and which takes precedence over the internal legal and constitutional arrangements of member states. On this view, the notion that Parliament could unilaterally legislate "as a matter of British law" to withdraw the UK from the ambit of EU law is anachronistic and unreal.

In any event, British membership of the EU has had a very considerable impact on the constitution and governance of the country. In the Factortame litigation, for example, the House of Lords took the unprecedented step of granting an injunction to "disapply" an Act of Parliament (the Merchant Shipping Act 1988). While this step can in principle be argued to be consistent with traditional ideas of Parliamentary supremacy, it does illustrate the profound impact that EU membership has had. The merits of continued British involvement in the EU continue to be hotly debated within the UK.

Common law

The United Kingdom uses the common law legal system (except in Scotland where some civil law is incorporated, see Scots law) and court judgments also commonly form a source of the constitution: generally speaking, judgments of the higher courts form precedents or case law that binds lower courts and judges.

Historically important court judgments include those in the Case of Proclamations, the Ship money case and Entick v. Carrington, all of which imposed limits on the power of the executive.

A constitutional precedent applicable to British colonies is Campbell v. Hall, which effectively extended those same constitutional limitations to any territory which has been granted a representative assembly.

Conventions

Many British constitutional conventions are ancient in origin, though others (like the Salisbury Convention) date from within living memory. Such conventions, which include the duty of the Sovereign to act on the advice of his or her ministers, are not formally enforceable in a court of law; rather, they are primarily observed "because of the political difficulties which arise if they are not."[14]

Works of authority

Works of authority is the formal name for works that are sometimes cited as interpretations of aspects of the UK constitution. Most are works written by nineteenth- or early-twentieth-century constitutionalists, in particular A.V. Dicey, Walter Bagehot and Erskine May.

Disputes about the nature of the UK Constitution

While some assert that the UK does not have a constitution, some theorists describe the 1688 compromise between crown and parliament as a constitution, which is the basis of the textbook view described in this article. The legal scholar Eric Barendt argues that the uncodified nature of the United Kingdom constitution does not mean it should not be characterised as a "constitution", but also claims that the lack of an effective separation of powers, and the fact that parliamentary sovereignty allows Parliament to overrule fundamental rights, makes it to some extent a 'facade' constitution.[15]

In one article, Lord Scarman presents a spirited argument for a written constitution for the UK, but still refers to the 1688 compromise and resulting acts of parliament as a constitution.

The UK Constitution has no fundamental written source, and is ever changing. It relies much on unwritten convention. Dicey himself identified that ultimately "the electorate are politically sovereign," and Parliament is legally sovereign. Barendt argues that the greater political party discipline in the House of Commons that has evolved since Dicey's era, and the reduction in checks on governmental power, has led to an excessively powerful government that is not legally constrained by the observance of fundamental rights.[15] A Constitution would impose limits on what Parliament could do without a legal majority. To date, the Parliament of the UK has no limit on its power other than the possibility of extra-parliamentary action (by the people) and of other sovereign states (pursuant to treaties made by Parliament and otherwise).

It has been claimed that the unwritten British Constitution is a refusal by people in power to communicate to those subject to that power the extent of that power and the rights available to prevent and/or effectively remedy the abuse of that power. The pressure group Revived Cornish Stannary Parliament believes that the unwritten British constitution constitutes a conspiracy against the British public.[16] This is not a widely-held view. Support for a written constitution has been associated in particular with the Liberal Democrats and the pressure group Charter 88, though recently senior Labour government figures, including Gordon Brown and Jack Straw, have indicated that they are receptive to the idea. Proponents of a codified constitution argue it would strengthen the legal protection of democracy and freedom.[17] Controversy arises regarding who would write such a constitution and in the fact that Parliament cannot bind its successor.

Devolution

Reforms since 1997 have decentralised the UK by setting up a devolved Scottish Parliament and assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland. The UK had previously been an essentially unitary state since its foundation in 1801, though Scotland had always had a separate legal system and Ireland had repeatedly been subject to attempts to devolve power from London. Some commentators have stated the UK is now a "quasi-federal" state: it is only "quasi" federal, because (unlike the other components of the UK) England has no legislature of its own, and is directly ruled from Westminster (the devolved bodies are not sovereign and could, in theory at least, be repealed by Parliament - unlike "true" federations such as the United States where the constituent states share sovereignty with the federal government). Attempts to extend devolution to the various regions of England have stalled, and the fact that Parliament functions both as a British and as an English legislature has created some dissatisfaction (see, for example, the article on the "West Lothian question").

Other constitutional reforms

The Labour government under past-Prime Minister Tony Blair instituted sweeping constitutional reforms in the late 1990s and early-to-mid 2000s. The effective incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law through the Human Rights Act 1998 has granted citizens specific positive rights and given the judiciary some power to enforce them. The courts can put pressure on Parliament to amend primary legislation that conflicts with the Act by means of "Declarations of Incompatibility" - however only of an advisory capacity as Parliament is not bound to amend the law nor can the judiciary avoid any statute - and can refuse to enforce, or "strike down", any incompatible secondary legislation. Any actions of government authorities that violate Convention rights are illegal except if mandated by an Act of Parliament.

These reforms have undermined the concept of Parliamentary sovereignty somewhat, even though Parliament could still abolish the devolved assemblies and repeal the Human Rights Act. In reality such action is unlikely so these restrictions on the legislative power of Parliament are likely to remain on the statute book for the time being.

The passage of the Freedom of Information Act has challenged the traditional British notion that governments should not disclose too many details of their operations.

Recent changes also include the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 which alters the structure of the House of Lords to separate its judicial and legislative functions. For example the legislative, judicial and executive functions of the Lord Chancellor are now shared between the Lord Chancellor (executive), Lord Chief Justice (judicial) and the newly created post of Lord Speaker (legislative). The role of Law Lord (a member of the judiciary in the House of Lords) was abolished by tranferring them to the new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in October 2009.

Gordon Brown launched a "Governance of Britain" process when he took over as PM in 2007. This is an ongoing process of constitutional reform with the Ministry of Justice as lead ministry.

Key statutes and conventions

Below are listed some of the statutes that may be considered "constitutional" in nature and some of the more important conventions.

Selected key statutes

Some important conventions

  • Relating to monarchy
  • All ministers are to be drawn from the House of Commons or the House of Lords.
  • The House of Lords will accept any legislation that was in the Government's manifesto (the 'Salisbury Convention') – in recent years this convention has been broken by the Lords, though the composition of the Lords (which was the justification for the convention) has radically changed since the convention was introduced.
  • Individual Ministerial Responsibility
  • Collective Ministerial Responsibility

See also

References

  1. ^ Barnett, H. (2005). Constitutional and Administrative Law (5 ed.). London: Cavendish. pp. 9. "Conversly, "A written constitution is one contained within a single document or a [finite] series of documents, with or without amendments", id."  
  2. ^ This principle was famously enunciated by the legal scholar Albert Venn Dicey, and can be found, for example, in Justice Megarry's judgment in the 1982 case of Manuel v Attorney General.
  3. ^ Runciman, David (2008-02-07). "This Way to the Ruin". London Review of Books.  
  4. ^ Bradley, A.; Ewing, K. (1997). Constitutional and Administrative Law. London. pp. 271.  
  5. ^ Thoburn v Sunderland City Council [2002] EWHC 195 (Admin), [2003] QB 151 ("Metric Martyrs" ruling) 18 Feb 2002 (Extract)
  6. ^ Akehurst, Michael; Malanczuk, Peter (1997). Akehurst's modern introduction to international law. London: Routledge. pp. 65–66. ISBN 9780415111201. http://books.google.lu/books?id=4doebHRhGT8C&dq=repeal+European+Communities+Act+1972+%22international+law%22+dualist&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0.  
  7. ^ Bogdanor p. 34
  8. ^ Bogdanor, p. 148
  9. ^ Bogdanor, p. 176
  10. ^ "Elective dictatorship". The Listener: 496–500. 21 October 1976.  
  11. ^ Bogdanor, Vernon (1997). The Monarchy and the Constitution. Oxford University Press. p. 131. ISBN 0198293348. http://books.google.com/books?id=HEC6Ivq2JK8C.  
  12. ^ See Prof. Jeffrey Goldsworthy's study The Sovereignty of Parliament, OUP 1999.
  13. ^ See in particular Jackson and others v Attorney General [2005] UKHL 56 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200506/ldjudgmt/jd051013/jack-1.htm
  14. ^ Bradley and Ewing, p.24
  15. ^ a b Barendt, Eric (1997). "Is there a United Kingdom Constitution". Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 137. http://ojls.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/17/1/137?maxtoshow=&HITS=80&hits=80&RESULTFORMAT=1&andorexacttitle=and&andorexacttitleabs=and&andorexactfulltext=and&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&sortspec=relevance&fdate=1/1/1997&resourcetype=HWCIT.  
  16. ^ The Cornish Stannary Parliament and the unwritten British Constitution
  17. ^ Abbott, Lewis F. (2006). "Five: "The Legal Protection Of Democracy & Freedom: The Case For A New Written Constitution & Bill Of Rights"". British Democracy: Its Restoration & Extension. ISR. ISBN 978-0-906321-31-7. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=xwN-MIMtE6sC&dq=isbn:090632131X.  
  18. ^ Smith, David L. "Change & Continuity in 17th Century English Parliaments". History Review, 2002. p. 1.

Further reading

External links


Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

←Wikisource:Constitutional documents Constitution of the United Kingdom
This page includes documents relating to the establishment of fundamental rights and political structures of the United Kingdom. See also the category Constitutional documents.

Selected key statutes

  • Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act 1927
  • Representation of the People Act 1928
  • Statute of Westminster 1931
  • Parliament Act 1949
  • Representation of the People Act 1949
  • Life Peerages Act 1958
  • Representation of the People Act 1969 (Crown Copyright)
  • European Communities Act 1972 (Crown Copyright)
  • Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 (Crown Copyright)
  • Human Rights Act 1998 (Crown Copyright)
  • Scotland Act 1998 (Crown Copyright)
  • Government of Wales Act 1998(Crown Copyright)
  • Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Crown Copyright)
  • House of Lords Act 1999 (Crown Copyright)
  • Freedom of Information Act 2000 (Crown Copyright)
  • Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (Crown Copyright)
  • Government of Wales Act 2006 (Crown Copyright)

Acts that are less than 50 years old remain Crown copyright.


Simple English

File:Magna
Magna Carta (the Great Charter), the first document beginning the UK's constitution

The Constitution of the United Kingdom is a set of laws and rules in the United Kingdom that governs how the country is organized and the basic rights and freedoms of the people.

The UK's constitution is not written in one single document like many other countries' are. In fact, the UK's constitution is not completely written down at all. Some of it can be found in writing, starting with the Magna Carta of 1215 and the Bill of Rights Act 1689 and including more modern Acts of Parliament. Other parts of it are considered common law and are made up of the decisions of judges over many hundreds of years in a system called legal or judicial precedence. Because of this, some people say that the United Kingdom has a de facto or "unwritten" constitution.[1]

Using the word "unwritten" is a problem, because most British laws and rules are written as statutes, or court judgments, the law of equity and in various treaties. Most of these laws come from the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Because most of the constitution is written down in this way, it is not technically correct to call it "unwritten" or "de facto". However, these words are still used. The Constitution of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is even more different to most other constitutions in that it is just a normal set of laws, and not a "higher" law that the government cannot easily change. The constitution has no more authority than any other law in the UK, and the government can change it just by passing a new Act.

=Constitutional Monarchy

=

The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy. This means it has a Queen or a King. The Queen or King is decided by whether or not their parents, or other close relative, were King or Queen. Oldest brothers used to get to be King first, then the next brother, and so on, turning only to daughters when there were no sons. Queen Elizabeth II changed this, however, and rewrote the law so that the eldest child would become the next monarch no matter what its gender was.

References

  1. Barnett, H. (2005). Constitutional and Administrative Law (5 ed.). London: Cavendish. pp. 9. "Conversely, "A written constitution is one contained within a single document or a [finite] series of documents, with or without amendments", id." 

Other websites

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