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British Constitutionalism

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Presentation on theme: "British Constitutionalism"— Presentation transcript:

1 British Constitutionalism
Philosophical and historical basis for British Democracy Features of the British Constitutional Order Common Law and Unwritten Constitution Majoritarianism/ Parliamentary Unitary Government Role of the Crown

2 A little political istory of Britain in 19th Century
Insular status a.  Since the Norman invasion of 1066, no one has successfully invaded Britain. b.  Isolation - Aided in cultural distinction but also allowed evolutionary political development There was violence English Civil War

3 Britain had developed institutions of democracy fairly early on in its history
Magna Carta Liberatatum (Great Charter of Freedoms) limited power of King John Subsequently the “Provisions of Oxford” (1258) Emergence of parliament in 13th Century as an institution (although dominated by nobility Glorious revolution (1688) and English Bill of Rights (established parliament supremacy) Early establishment of accountability of the Crown to representatives of the people In stark contrast to the growth of absolutism in places like France and Spain

4 Framework for system was established
End of Napoleonic wars in 1815 Britain emerged as a predominant global power (sense of security enhanced) In part contributed to the “relaxation” of the elite and a lessened fear of revolution and the mob 19th century witnessed expansion of the franchise (right to vote)

5 English industrialization and the social mobilization of society in 19th century –first country in Europe to industrialize Brought more people into the political process In 1831 only about 400,000 out of 14 million could vote (largely due to property requirements) Reform Act 1832 The Act granted seats in the House of Commons to large cities that had sprung up during the Industrial Revolution , and took away seats from the “ rotten boroughs” (districts with very small populations) Increased the right to vote by reducing property requirement to include 650,000 adult males

6 Second Reform act in 1867 further expanded the vote to include about 2 million voters out of approximately 5 million adult males by reducing property and income requirements Enfranchised the middle and working classes

7 3. Industrialization in 19th century
a. They were first in Europe to industrialize. b. Britain was the dominant economic power of the world from the 1700s to 1946 (roughly). c. Industrialization led Britain away from agrarian society and toward industrial, urban society d. Industrialization led to empire E. also led to significant social class differences

8 Evolutionary Development
a. Slow change has always marked the evolution of British institutions b. Britain resembles Edmund Burke's "organic society" where things change slowly, by evolution rather than by revolution. c. Britain avoided abolition of the monarchy, unlike France, Italy, and the United States.

9 Features of the British Constitutional Order
Common Law and Unwritten Constitution Majoritarianism/ Parliamentary Unitary Government Role of the Crown

10 British Constitutional Order
Development of Common Law a. Common law is "judge made law." b. Stare decisis -  "Let the decision stand.” from Stare decisis et non quieta movere, "Maintain what has been decided and do not alter that which has been established") is the legal principle by which judges are obliged to obey the precedents established by prior decisions

11 c. Continental Europe tends to have statute (legislative) law, so Britain is unique. d. The Common Law will likely disappear as Britain is incorporated into the European Union.

12 2. Majoritarianism 1) Majority rule is maximized when one political party supported by a majority in the legislature controls the cabinet 2) this one party majority cabinet should predominate over the legislature. Theoretically powerful legislature, but government sets the political agenda Legislature is bicameral with aristocratic House of Lords and directly elected House of Commons House of Commons selects Prime Minister and Cabinet i.e. Cabinet members are not merely advisors to the Prime Minister

13 3) the legislature should be unicameral in order to ensure one clear majority (to avoid competing majorities in other bodies) 4) the governmental system is unitary and centralized not federal

14 5) the cabinet and the parliamentary majority should not be constrained by constitutional limitations (this is where an unwritten constitution is less constraining than a written one) 6) the courts should not have the power to limit the majority’s power via judicial review 7)two party system 8)one dominant political cleavage(e.g socio economic) 9)plurality electoral systems- as in the US. (NOT proportional representation as in continental Europe)

15 3. Unitary government a. Unitary rather than federalism as a form of government. b. National government is supreme.

16 4. Role of the crown a. The crown is the locus of authority more symbolic than real– provides legitimacy. b. Although they are elected, the Prime Minister and other ministers of the crown seek Royal approval for heir  nomination to office. c. Ministers work with the Monarch and act in her name, thus creating the notion that they are not responsible to the people but to the crown.

17 The constitutional order is changing
Devolution since 1997 (Scottish and Welsh autonomy) Calls for the abolition of the crown and the House of Lords

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