FAQ: What is the nature of the UK constitution?
Posted by Matt Walker on December 8, 2009
Unfortunately, studying the UK constitution is not straightforward. First of all, we need to find it! Many people think that the UK constitution is unwritten. This is quite wrong. The best description is that it is partly-written and uncodified.
The UK constitution is uncodified. It is not to be found written up in a single document. Much of it is to be found in statue law. Statute laws are laws that have been passed by Parliament. Those laws which have a constitutional impact are part of the UK constitution, for example the 1911 Parliament Act, and the 2000 Human Rights Act. This part of the constitution is written.
A second source of the constitution is conventions. These are accepted ways of behaviour that have evolved over time, such as the Salisbury convention. This convention asserts that the House Lords will not reject any policy the governing party included in its manifesto at the previous election. Conventions are an unwritten part of the constitution.
Other sources of the constitution include common law (ancient rights such as freedom of speech and movement, which go back centuries), foreign treaties (for example, the Lisbon Treaty), and works of reference such as Dicey and Erskine May.
All of this seems very odd, and in many ways it is. So don’t worry! The UK constitution has evolved over centuries and no one has ever bothered to scoop it up into a single document, arguably because it would take so long.
But what do you think? Is this any way to run a modern democracy?