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Constitution of the United Kingdom

The Constitution of the United Kingdom is an area of unmodified law, consisting of both written and unwritten sources. There is no technical difference between ordinary statutes and law considered "constitutional law". Therefore the Parliament of the United Kingdom can perform "constitutional reform" simply by passing Acts of Parliament and thus has the power to change or abolish any written or unwritten element of the constitution. The constitution is based on the concept of all sovereignty ultimately belonging to Parliament (Parliamentary sovereignty), so the concept of entrenchment cannot exist. The lack of a central written constitutional document explaining the fundamental principles of the state and relationship between its institutions and between the people leads some constitutionalists to regard the United Kingdom as having "no (formal) constitution". The phrase "unwritten constitution" is sometimes used, despite the fact that the UK constitution incorporates many written sources, statutory law being considered the most important source of the constitution. But the case remains that the constitution relies far more on unwritten constitutional conventions than virtually every other liberal democratic constitution.


• Acts of Parliament (written)

• Treaties (written)

• EU law (written)

• Common Law (unwritten)

• Conventions (unwritten)

• Royal Prerogative (unwritten)

• Works of authority (written)

The UK constitution draws from a variety of written document and unwritten constitutional convention. The sources are of varying importance, with the written Acts of Parliament (statutes) and EU law being of greatest importance, regulating many aspects of government, and wider systems such as the running of elections. Foreign treaties, which are passed as Acts of Parliament, are also often of constitutional importance. As the United Kingdom uses the common law legal system, precedents established by judges also form a source of the constitution. Other important unwritten sources are Constitutional conventions, which, for example, attempt to establish lines of accountability for ministers. Many such conventions are ancient in origin, and form some of the principles of the constitution. Much about these conventions has been written, and guidelines for ministers and parliamentarians are today available in some detail in writing. However, this does not mean that the unwritten conventions they are derived from are irrelevant, since they can only formally be replaced by Acts of Parliament. Rather, writings about conventions are meant to increase understanding of them, rather than supersede them. Works of authority is the formal name for works that are sometimes cited as interpretations of aspects of the UK constitution. Most are works written by nineteenth century constitutionalists, mainly A. V. Dicey, Walter Bagehot and Erskine May.

Royal prerogative is the name for powers originally exercised by the monarch. They derived from the monarch's traditional authority, to use the Weberist term. In practice, by convention, most prerogatives are now directly exercised by ministers, such as the power to regulate the civil service, or the power to issue passports. Some absolute prerogatives (also known as the monarch's personal- or reserve prerogatives) still exist, but these are by convention exercised only on the advice of the Prime Minister and cabinet. These powers include summoning, proroguing and dissolving Parliament, granting royal assent to bills and formally appointing office holders. The most important reserve prerogative - also the most automatic under the current constitutional settlement - is considered to be the appointment and dismissal of Prime Ministers. The last time this reserve prerogative was exercised by the monarch without reference to the Cabinet was with the appointment of Harold Wilson in 1974, despite his party not having a majority in Parliament. Queen Elizabeth n exercised her prerogative after extensive consultation with the Privy Council. Royal prerogatives are often controversial, since they give the government great theoretical power. However, the Royal Prerogative is not unlimited; this was established in the Case of Proclamations (1611), which confirmed that no new prerogative can be created, and that Parliament can abolish individual prerogatives.




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