Presentation on theme: "Reading: Norton CH 3. Guiding Questions What makes the British constitution unique? What are the sources of the British constitution? What are the."— Presentation transcript:
Reading: Norton CH 3
Guiding Questions What makes the British constitution unique? What are the sources of the British constitution? What are the pillars of the British constitution? What role does the monarchy play in British politics?
The British Constitution Constitutions communicate the fundamental relationships between political institutions within political society. i.e. separation of powers; checks and balances, etc. Also lays out the relationship between the government and the governed. British constitution “unwritten” Does not exist as a single document. Unique amongst liberal democracies in this regard Content of the constitution has been a subject of debate.
The Sources of the Constitution Legal and non-legal sources for the British constitution. Legal: Magna Carta, laws of Parliament, EU law, human rights law, and case law. Non-legal: conventions, customs of Parliament, and scholarly works (e.g. Bagehot’s English Constitution). Parliamentary law and EU law are the most significant sources of the British constitution.
The British Constitution Several groups argue in favor of codifying the constitution in written form. Governments have been reluctant to do so arguing that: 1) Not apparent that an unwritten constitution has made it difficult to govern democratically 2) A written constitution would constrain the ability of government’s to govern.
The Five Pillars of the British Constitution Five aspects of the British constitution are critical for our understanding of British politics. 1) Constitutional monarchy 2) Parliamentary sovereignty 3) Cabinet government 4) British judiciary 5) Unitary system
The British Constitution: Monarchy The UK is a constitutional monarchy. Executive authority is divided between the head of state (monarch) and the head of government (prime minister). Rise in prominence of parliament vis-à-vis the monarchy (or the decline of absolutism) linked to the seating of William and Mary. Monarch performs the “dignified” rather than the “efficient” executive functions. The current monarch: Queen Elizabeth II Reigned since 1952.
Succession Line of succession runs through the male line first; female line second. Elizabeth II is the oldest daughter in a family with no male heir. Edward VIII’s abdication placed her father George VII on the throne. The monarch cannot 1) be a Roman Catholic or 2) marry a Roman Catholic. Private members bills have been authored to remove prohibitions on marrying a Roman Catholic and ending male primogeniture. Proposals would still require the monarch to identify with Anglicanism. Concern that all states accepting Elizabeth II as monarch (Commonwealth realm states) would have to accept any changes made to succession has frustrated movement on these issues. No real movement likely until a government party takes it up
Functions of the Monarchy Custom and convention shape the monarch’s role within the system. Monarch maintains prerogative powers. 1) Appoints the prime minister Although this authority is limited. 2) Advises the prime minister Described by Bagehot as “the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn”
Functions of the Monarchy 3) All bills require Royal Assent in order to become law. In reality, assent is usually a formality. 4) Dissolves Parliament. But this is done at the request of the prime minister. Taken together, these functions and the conventions surrounding them have circumscribed monarchical authority. But they do, however, legitimize the monarch as the neutral embodiment of the state. 5) Serves as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Primarily symbolic; formally appoints bishops after consultation with the Prime Minister.
Conclusions Depoliticizing the monarchy boosts the monarch’s role as head of state. Neutrality and non-partisan nature seen as a sign of strength. While the monarchy provides important symbolic functions, Parliament is essentially the guarantor of the constitution. Parliament controls the amendment process; a written constitution might limit the ability of government’s to change laws, etc. The judiciary does not have judicial review; they rule on the scope and intent of bills not on their constitutionality.
Next Unit Theme: The British Constitution and Parliamentary Sovereignty Readings: Norton CH 8 and 9