Presentation on theme: "The Changing British Political System: The British Constitution"— Presentation transcript:
1 The Changing British Political System: The British Constitution
2 Constitutions Constitution: set out relationship between State and individualsDifferent institutions of the stateConstitutions define distribution of power within state and between state & citizensArend Lijphart, Patterns of Democracy (1999) – 3 dimensions of constitutions:Written vs unwrittenFlexible vs rigidJudicial review vs no judicial review
3 British Constitution – Features Uncodified (‘unwritten’)Not written down in one place – scattered across statute book, conventions, etc.FlexibleNo special provisions for changing constitutionCan change with times – but also susceptible to abuse?No judicial reviewCourts could not over-ride parliament (but EU law)Human Rights Act 1998 – judicial activism?
4 Dicey’s ‘Twin Pillars’ of the Constitution Rule of Law and Parliamentary SovereigntyEquality before the lawInstead of a ‘constitution’, Britain has the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty‘The principle of parliamentary sovereignty means nothing more nor less than this, namely, that Parliament … has, under the English constitution, the right to make or unmake any law whatever; and, further, that no person or body is recognised by the law as having a right to override or set aside the legislation of Parliament.’ A.V. Dicey, Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (1885)
5 Parliamentary Sovereignty Parliament has a monopoly of legitimate law-making powerHistorically no US-style judicial review by courts‘If we [in Britain] have a constitution at all, it is a one-sentence constitution stating that Parliament can make or repeal any law whatsoever.’ (F. F. Ridley, 1988)Gladstone: ‘[The British Constitution] presumes more boldly than any other the good sense and the good faith of those who work it’
6 Sources of the Constitution (1) Statute lawParliament Act 1911, European Communities Act 1972, Scotland Act 1998Common law (judge-made law)Judicial decisions and Royal PrerogativesFreedom of speechPower to make treatiesDoctrine of Parliamentary SovereigntyWorks of authorityRecognised guidance on constitutionA.V. Dicey, An Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (1885)Hansard, Erskine May
7 Sources of the Constitution (2) ConventionsUnwritten but accepted rules of behaviourMonarch assents to legislationMonarch appoints dominant party’s leader as PMAll ministers drawn from Commons or LordsCollective cabinet responsibilitySalisbury convention – ended with Lords reformConventions common to all political systems, e.g. no mention of electoral college in US ConstitutionHow are conventions enforced?
8 Sources of the Constitution (3) EU lawMajor modification of parliamentary sovereigntyEU law can over-ride UK law in order to make single market workFactortame court case (1990)ECJ ruled that national courts could dis-apply UK laws that violated European law’Nuclear option’: UK can leave EU, thus reasserting primacy of UK law parliamentary sovereignty intact?
9 Constitutional Doctrine (1) The Unitary StatePower enjoyed by sub-national govt can be revoked by WestminsterDevolution has politically (but not legally) changed situationThe Crown and ParliamentExecutive exercises powers once held by MonarchPrerogative powersAppointing ministersDissolving parliamentAppointing civil servantsDeclaring warAppointing officers in the armed forcesMaking treaties
10 Constitutional Doctrine (2) Doctrine of Responsible GovernmentGovt responsible to parliament – resign if it loses vote of confidenceIndividual ministers responsible to parliamentGovt responsible to electorate – seeks mandate in a general electionCollective ResponsibilityMinisters must defend Govt decisions or resignRelated to: if Govt defeated in parliament in no-confidence vote, it must collectively resignCollective responsibility occasionally waived, e.g. EEC referendum in 1975
11 Constitutional Doctrine (3) Individual Ministerial ResponsibilityMinisters responsible for actions of their DeptsExpected to resign if serious problemsExpected to resign if they lie to parliamentWeakening of the DoctrineRapid turnover of ministersMinistries too big for one person to be held responsibleBlurred lines of accountability – esp. autonomous agenciesDistinction between policy responsibilities (minister) and operational responsibilities (agency)
12 Constitutional Doctrine (4) Mandate Theory of GovernmentGovt claims right to implement policies supported in manifesto by voters in general electionAssumption: voters choose Govts in general elections (2-party system)To what extent can Lords or courts legitimately frustrate decisions of elected Govt?ConclusionUK constitution/political system – ideal-type ‘Westminster model’Parliamentary sovereigntyNo judicial reviewFlexible constitutionUnitary stateBut numerous changes to constitution and political system since 1997 – explored throughout this course