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UK Statute Law and the Constitution

The Constitution is mainly to be found in Acts passed by Parliament since Britain became a Constitutional Monarchy in 1688 and these have replaced most areas of common law. These have been passed by an elected House of Commons and so would be expected to have democratic legitimacy.

There are two problems with these Acts however:-

There is no such thing in law as a constitutional Act so we can only talk about Acts that have a constitutional significance by selecting those that fulfil some of the functions of written constitutions or that party leaders and parliamentarians see as having a constitutional significance.

Judges approach cases related to them in much the same way as any other cases, although they would be very careful before deciding that newer legislation changed the provisions of an earlier Act with constitutional significance.

Any of these Acts can be changed by a simple majority in Parliament and so by a new Government. They are not protected in the way that written constitutions are. They may be passed by the Government for short term or party political reasons.

The Bill of Rights 1698

One of the most important Acts is one of the earliest, the Bill of Rights, 1689.

The Act is not about individual rights but contains:-

The rights of Parliament as against the Monarch and, although monarchs continued to be actively involved in politics for over a hundred years afterwards, created the basis of a Constitutional Monarchy.

The Bill established that the Executive could not overturn Parliament’s legislation and that Parliament had to approve the basis of taxation and expenditure.

The doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty is one of the principal doctrines of the British Constitution. The Act contains the very important words:

” The freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament.”

This means that the courts have to accept whatever is in an Act of Parliament and in interpreting legislation only decide what Parliament meant by the wording.