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Salient Features of British Constitution


Unwritten Constitution:

The British Constitution is unwritten Constitution as it is not embodied, wholly or mainly in any enactment or formally related series of enactments. After civil war of the seventeenth century, Cromwell drew up an Instrument of Government (1653) the only written constitution the English have had but this came to an end in 1660 with the restoration of monarchy. Recent suggestion for a written constitution for UK put forward on wide ground have attracted little general support hitherto as distinct from support for proposal of Bill of Rights.

Constituents of British Constitution:

The laws of British constitution consist of three kinds of rules:

  1. Statute law.
  2. Common law.
  3. Custom Law.

Statute law. These consist of Acts of Parliament and subordinate legislation.

Judicial precedent. The decisions of the courts can also be source.

Customs. Customs are an important part of UK constitutional law e.g., royal prerogative & parliamentary privileges and conventions.

Flexible Constitution:

The British Constitution is described as flexible because any principle or rule of the constitution can be altered by same body and in the same manner as any other law that are specially “constitutional” or “fundamental” and that are not. The body which has the power to alter the constitution, or any other rules of law is the Queen in parliament and the procedure is the same as for any other legislation.  The legislation is the supreme over constitution. There is no law that cannot be repealed or altered in this way, that is to say, none that are entrenched.

The flexibility of British Constitution is a corollary of the fact that there is no written constitution or “higher law” binding on parliament. The courts therefore, have no power to declare it unconstitutional.

The Rule of Law:

It requires that no one be punished except one has committed clear breach of law. Law should be designed to deny to governments any right to make secret or arbitrary laws or retrospective penal laws, and to limit the discretionary powers of government for this purpose the law should be open and accessible, clear and certain.

Equality before law:

Dicey emphasizes on the notion that government itself is subject to law and that every one, irrespective of rank, whether official or individual, shall be equally subject to law.

Independence of judiciary:

The general duty binding on all citizens in a parliamentary democracy is to obey the law unless and until it can be changed by due process.

Limited Monarchy:

The British political system is monarchical. But it is a limited or constitutional monarchy. That is to say the governmental powers which as a matter of legal born as vested in the Queen are in practice exercised according to the laws customs & Convention of the constitution and they are exercised either by the Queen on the advice of her Minister or by the Ministers in her name.

Separation of Power:

There is no strict separation of powers in the English constitution in the strict sense. The legislative, executive and judicial powers are not assigned respectively to different organs, nor have checks and balances between them been devised as a result of theoretical analysis. Development of British public institutions has been mainly empirical.

No Distinct System of Administrative laws:

Administrative law determines the organization powers and duties of administrative authorities. It is law relating to public administration. (social welfare, health, education etc). But up till now there is no system that can called an administrative law in this country and there (is no system still no system of administrative courts)

The topics covered by administrative law in the United Kingdom have to be picked out, as a matter of choice, from the general body of our constitution law.

Judicial review:


Every act of legislature and executive is subject to review under the supreme/superior court.

Superior courts are the creation of the constitution and they have authority to declare any law null and void, which is against the constitution.

Judicial Review in UK

Basically the judicial review gives the birth to the concept of ultra vires (the rules beyond the constitutional powers). The principle of judicial review of judicial action is not applicable in UK due to unwritten constitution and supremacy of parliament. However, British Courts are competent to judicial review of administrative actions.

Supremacy of Parliament:

Parliament can pass laws on any topic affecting any persons and that there are no “Fundamental” laws which parliament cannot amend or repeal in the same way as ordinary legislation and further there is no body or person recognized by the law of England as having the right to override or set aside the legislation of parliament.

Limitations Upon Parliamentary Supremacy:

  1. Representative Democracy:

This is the great check over the parliamentary supremacy because the elected members are accountable to the public. As after every term of 5 years they have to go the public to demand vote and obtain mandate.

  1. Sensitive to public Opinion:

Government cannot act against popular sentiments and it is great check upon the parliamentary supremacy.

  1. Consultation of Organized groups.

Organized groups for example Unions and NGOs normally called person groups play an important role in this content.

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