A constitution is a combined set of rules and regulations coming from different sources that guide how a country, and the state works within defined limitations. The constitution may define the organization of the government and the principles on which powers are applied. It also determines the fundamental rights of the citizens towards the government and the government towards the citizens.
British constitution was not drafted at the time of institution; its current evolutionary shape has a journey of many centuries. The British constitution can be categorized into two portions which are constitutional law and conventions of the constitution. The constitutional law portion indicates rules recognized through courts. The conventions of the constitution portion cover the political system of the British, which is not enforced by the courts.
The British constitution has many key features which show the strength and power of the state-enforced. Following are some of the important points of the British Constitution:
Mother of all the Constitution:
Most of the counties of the world have gained the concept of the constitution from the British Constitution. It is also one of the oldest constitutions currently available around the globe, that’s why it is considered as Mother of all constitutions.
The British constitution has a long journey of evolutionary growth and is also gowning day by day. No one can claim the exact time duration of the constitution or the number of people who created it. Sensible efforts, along with the requirements of the times, have shaped the current growth of the British constitution. The important judicial decision, along with some acts of parliaments also contributed hugely to the British constitution system. However, other sources, such as conventions, also played a vital role in the growth and development of the British constitution.
Unwritten / Un-codified Constitution:
This is one of the most important aspects of the British constitution. However, there are some portions of the constitution which are written as well which includes some historical documents, acts passed by the parliament, and some common law.
The British constitution is not properly codified but has unique characteristics of being flexible. The constitution can amend easily by acts of parliament by a simple majority to pass the act. The constitution can adapt to the changes quickly. Though the constitution is flexible, there are only a few changes that were made during such a long journey.
Separation of Powers:
The government system of the British is based on the separation of powers. Every system works under the defined powers and duties. Montesquieu explains his point of view on the system of separation of powers; he anticipates that the crown is the main source of executive power while Parliament does legislative acts, and finally, the courts exercise the right of judicial authority.
The British constitution is unitary because the central governments hold all the concentrated powers. All other government institutions exercise their powers as defined by the constitution under the rule and command of the central government.
The British parliament system has been divided into two parts, namely the “House of Lords” and “House of Commons”. “The House of Commons” is a lower house, and its members are selected by the electorate. “The House of Lords” is the upper house whose members are selected by the crown. In terms of power and authority House of Commons is authoritative as compared to the House of Lords.
This is another unique feature of the British constitution. The British constitution is a mixture of Monarchy, Aristocracy and Democracy. The monarchy exists in the shape of a crown Aristocracy is prevailing in the shape of House of Lords and Democracy prevails in the shape of House of Commons. This unique feature is only prevailing in the British Constitution as compared to other constitutions of the world.
The sovereignty of the Parliament:
The British parliament has the power to alter or repeal any law by the defined procedure, which is simple to adopt. De Lome, a French political writer explains the power of the British parliament that it is so powerful and can do anything except to convert man into women and women into men. The supremacy of the parliament can be analyzed in that any act passed by the British parliament cannot be challenged by any competent court of law because the constitution has given such powers to the parliament. Besides this, the British parliament has the power to amend any law, it can disallow the king to marry of his choice, and it can also abolish the monarchy and upper house of parliament and can give these powers to the people of the state.
Constitutionally, the Crown is the head of all authorities in Great Britain. Practically, all these powers are not exercised by the Queen personally. However, these powers are exercised by the government authorities under the command and control of the Queen. According to Ogg that the British government is constitutionally based on absolute monarchy but in practice, the structure is very similar to the Republican form.
Parliamentary democracy is a key feature of the British political system. Britain is a pioneer in introducing this democracy. The Cabinet, in reality, is the real executive being a part of the British parliament. Every member of the cabinet is either a member of the House of Lords or the House of Commons. The Prime minister is the real leader of the cabinet team however, every minister is responsible to the parliament. The cabinet in the British political system enjoys dictatorial powers only because of the implementation of sanctions on administrative policies.
From the beginning of parliamentary history, the two-party system is prevailing. From history, it can be revealed that almost two political parties remained active in politics i.e. currently, the Conservatives hold the government while having 365 seats in the 2019 Elections while the Labor party was the main rival and holds 203 seats.
Rule of Law:
The concept rule of law is very easy to understand. The law is supreme and above every individual, and it applies to everyone at any cost. Rule of laws has explained some basic aspects such as everybody has a right to independence and no one can be imprisoned without the consent of the learned court, everybody is equal in terms of the law, every citizen is entitled to enjoy fundamental rights, Laws should be clear in meaning and nature. The rule of law can be viewed by some acts of parliament and common laws. Now, the rule of law has been recognized in the United Kingdom.
Difference between Theory & Practice:
There are some differences in theory and practice in the British Constitution. The theory explains that no law can be implemented without the consent of the Queen, but practically, the Queen just signed the bills presented to her. Walter Bagehot states that “The British Queen reigns but does not rule.” As per the theory, King has many powers to exercise, but practically, he works on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, and the king holds a position of just a signatory authority.
The British constitution is primarily based on a number of conventions. The British constitution cannot understand without reading these conventions. Most of the conventions are just known to the cabinet and parliament only. The conventions are an unwritten part, and one of the key sources of the constitution, such as the Prime minister should be formed lower chamber of the parliament; every bill passed by the parliament will be signed and consented by the Queen etc.
The British constitution gives liberties to everyone through the Bill. In Britain law, the constitution is not the main creator of fundamental rights for the citizens. The fundamental rights currently available to the citizens are recognized with the passage of time and all these rights are mostly created by the courts based on judicial decisions.
Most of the British people have democratic behaviour, that’s the main reason for the success of democracy in Great Britain. People believe in the concept of the majority is authority and basis of this concept the general public is tolerant enough to bear the view of the majority. On the other hand side, the majority party that wins the election also give due respect to the opposition party, which is a real beauty of the British political system.
Criticisms/Weaknesses of the UK Constitution
Like other constitutions around the world, the British constitution has also faced a lot of criticism and some of the key features have also become disadvantages rather than advantages. Some of the critical points of criticism are as follows:
As described earlier, the British constitution is an unwritten document which creates confusion regarding certain rule and regulations; for example, the convention regarding the responsibilities of the minister is not clear at all, and the word responsibility and resignation is not defined properly. All the powers exercised by the executive, legislative and judiciary are not properly defined which is also creating confusion between these three pillars of the state.
The central government has a weak check and balances system and also holds limited power. The Queen just signed the bill after a pass it by the parliament. The central government is not actively participating in the whole process due to limited power, and there is also a difference in theory and practice.
Weak protection of Rights:
Although the British constitution gives a right of protection to the citizens, in reality, the basic fundamental individual rights are not written in the constitution so, legally, no one has the clear backing of the law available on the record. Human Rights Act 1998 has defined the right of protection, but it is not written like a bill of rights.
Some of the institutions and systems are traditionally a part of the British government system but in reality, it can be considered as unfit and outdated. In reality, these systems and institutions are the weakness of the British constitution. The House of Lords and the FPTP system have been criticized because of their nature as undemocratic.
The British constitution has a long history over the centuries. The constitution is uncodified and not available in any single document. There are no such things available in the world which is called a perfect constitution. Every constitution has some advantages and disadvantages, and that’s why the constitution needs to be amended for the welfare of the citizens. The British constitution is an un-codified document which has both strengths and weaknesses. The most important and significant factor is the responsible behavior of all constitutional players which helps to overcome the weakness available in the system. The introduction of the codified or written constitution can be more beneficial for the British political system and citizens. The codified constitution can be more authentic, and all ambiguity can be overcome with a better efficiency level.