FAQ: What is a constitution?
Posted by Matt Walker on December 7, 2009
A constitution should tell us who has power, how much of it, and what the limits are to their power. This could be for individuals, such as the prime minister, or an institution like a parliament. How much power does the government have? What is it permitted to do? Does the Commons have more power than the Lords? All these things should be specified by the constitution.
A constitution should also set out the rights of a country’s citizens. As a citizen of the UK, I know that I have freedom of speech and movement; that since the age of 18 I have been able to vote; that if I’m suspected of a crime I will face a jury of my peers, and will only be convicted after the presentation of sufficient evidence; and I also know that I cannot be imprisoned without a trial and the due process of law.
It is also important for a constitution to specify how it can be changed. Often constitutions are difficult to change, so that it is not easy to change the balance of power or people’s rights. If this is the case, a constitution is said to be entrenched.
Most constitutions around the world are written up in a single document, like the US’. Such a constitution is described as codified.