A significant characteristic of British constitution is its uncodified form. Although most laws and statues are presented in written documents, here uncodified refers to that 'no single document available is entitled as 'The Constitution' (John Kingdom (1991) 'The Constitution' Government and Politics in Britain, 58-59), which should involve all relevant aspects of constitution. The causation of its uncodified form derives from Britain's relatively tranquil history-there was not a prominent revolution during which a new class emerged striving for a fresh system on the abolition of the old one, such as the French Great Revolution.
Five principle sources of constitution are classified as royal prerogative, statute, common law, convention and authoritative opinion. As Britain joined EU, EU laws have become another major source and all the British laws must subject to EU laws. Due to its uncodified feature, convention constitutes a great mass of constitution, playing an important role. British constitution's uncodified form has been challenged by quite a few criticisms. As it is primarily composed by convention, British constitution is deemed to be more flexible.
Such as during the procedure of amendment, no restrictions or arrangements are specifically presented in any documents. As a result, amendment could be easily achieved through conventions, and it would not matter even if there were some changes in conventions. In contrary, it is argued that the US constitution has only experienced amendments during the last 200 years because of the supreme laws which imposed certain limits over amendment.
However, to some extend, the British constitution may be reluctant to change because of 'the widespread assumptions about how the system works' and people's values' (Unlimited documents (2002) The British Constitution Available at: comparison, the US constitution is undergoing constant change 'either through political or judicial process'. Even worse, the British constitution's 'flexibility' may threaten democracy.
As there is no specific documents revealing the amendment of constitution, the government therefore is able to change 'at will', so long as the party loyalty and predominance maintain. Apart from these, several circumstances out of conventions could be identified. To illustrate, assume that the Prime Minister loses confidence in Cabinet and requests grant from the Queen for his resignation. By convention, the Queen should accept the request, but what if the Cabinet claimed their disagreement? No details are recorded.
History and Evolution of Constitution
British constitution originally developed from the Saxon Kings era and gained its blooming advancement after the Glorious Revolution in 1688. Thereafter, the British constitution defined British government as 'parliamentary government'. The parliament was initially formed as an institution to assent to new taxes made by the King. Knights and burgesses comprised the initial members of parliament. During the development, the knights and burgesses became separate from each other, constituting the two Houses-the Commons and the Lords.
The House of Commons obtained further development in the following years. During the Tudor and Stuart eras, the clashes between the Parliament and the monarchy triggered civil war and finally resulted in Glorious Revolution in 1688-through which parliament supremacy was established. Thereafter, more powers are transferred from the Crown to the Parliament-predominantly to the Commons-enabling the House of Commons to become the 'pre-eminent component of Crown-in-Parliament' (Unlimited documents (2002)
On the other hand, the House of Lords developed into an unelected chamber consisting of hereditary peers (Members of the Commons are all elected) with only a few powers. The Parliament became the legislature with the Lords as the highest judge. The unproportionate development of powers between the two Houses and the erosion of the monarchy led to a vague separation of powers and so-called 'Parliament Sovereignty'. The Parliament is defined as the combination of 'the Crown, Lords and Commons'. While by convention, the powers of the Crown and the Lords are limited, so it is in fact the Commons' domination.
Even worse, the Lords, which is subordinate to the Commons, is the highest judge, which means that the parliament-or rather the Commons- could perform over common law. Consequently, no courts or judges are superior to the Parliament, or to deny Acts passed by the Parliament. They are only reinforcement and interpretation of Acts of the Parliament. Under such a system, the government could become authoritarian, as long as it possesses the majority of the Commons, which could interfere with the intention of democracy. In comparison, take the US constitution for example.
The US constitution is characterized by its typical separation of powers, through which the three principle powers are dominated by different institutions restricted by each other. For example, the US Supreme Court is the utmost authority over controversial issues. It acts as the interpreter of laws, but is excluded from law-making process. The Supreme Court is entitled to declare any acts of Congress as illegal or invalid, possessing the final says to reject any bills or acts passed by the Congress when necessary. The system guarantees democracy and avoids ultra vires or dictatorship.
Functioning As mentioned before, Parliament Sovereignty goes against the separation of powers and imposes a negative implication over the functioning of constitution. In the following part, the functioning of constitution concentrates on that of its relevant institutions containing the monarchy, the House of Commons and the Lords. -The monarchy Since the Glorious Revolution in 1688, with the erosion of royal powers and the expansion of the Parliament, the British monarchy encountered an unprecedented downturn as never before.
The present constitution defines that the royal prerogative includes the power to appoint the Prime Minister, assent to legislation and so forth. But these powers are actually exercised by the Cabinet and the Prime Minister. So the Crown has become a ceremonial position. As the head of the state with few powers, the Crown almost does not have any influence on the government operation. However, the annual expenditure on the monarchy accounts for 7. 9 million on the government tax list. The existence of the monarchy also contradicts the mission of democracy. In one word, the monarchy is useless and unnecessary.
The Lords and Commons Two most important functions of the Lords and the Commons are legitimization and scrutinizing executives. * Legitimization All the bills proposed by government have to be legitimated by the two Houses. The proposal will be firstly sent to the Commons, where the members will launch debates and vote for it. If the proposal is rejected by majority, it fails; if not, it passes the Commons and is then sent to the Lords for further discussion and revision. The proposal will become an Act of Parliament with the assent of the Queen when it is passed by the Lords.
If not, it will be given back to the Commons, requiring amendment. It seems that the procedure reasonably involves specific and adequate considerations. But in fact, it is the Commons' domination. By convention, the Lords assent to all bills passed by the Commons. Even the bill is rejected and given back to the Commons, the House of Commons are authorized to legitimate the bill under the Parliament Acts (Except for the bill seeking for an extension of the Parliament's life, when the Lords enjoy a final judge). As a result, the fact is that 'no measure can become an Act of Parliament without the assent of the Commons'.
Meanwhile, it seems ridiculous when the Commons is required a second discussion and amendment on what it has approved. Scrutinizing Executives Another paramount function of the two Houses is to scrutinize executives. Despite legitimization, the Lords and Commons could inquire the Prime Minister about policies and issues during the 'question time'. The Lords and Commons each would conduct considerable debates around issues raised by constituents and investigated by select committees, through which the two Houses act as the expression to government.
The intention and achievement of the activities could be highly evaluated, as they do serve to optimize government operation. But some drawbacks should be noticed as well. As the members of the Commons represent different constituencies, they may be partial to their own constituents, overlooking the issues addressed by others. Moreover, issues addressed by members and committees dramatically exceed the capacity of government's workload. Consequently, only a small fraction is proposed to agenda.
British constitution has a prolonged history traced back to the ancient time. The unique history results in the uncodified form which differs from many other countries. The controversial development of the Parliament and the functioning of constitution have induced substantial criticisms and intense debate. Changes or rather a modest reform may be anticipated. Some even argue that the British constitution should adopt a written form. In one word, being confronted with such defects and drawbacks, changes in constitution have become a necessity rather than choice.