Constitutional law

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Constitutional law in the UK is a varied and interesting topic, largely because of the peculiarities of the UK constitutional system. This essay will consider the issues surrounding constitutions, their definition, purpose and specifically whether the UK can be considered to have a constitution. There are several versions of the definition of ‘constitution’ in a legal context. Bradley and Ewing consider that there are two meanings to the term – one a wider construction and the other a narrower viewpoint. The narrower of the two meanings defines a constitution as: “A document having a special legal sanctity which sets out the framework and the principal functions of the organs of government within the state and declares the principles by which those organs must operate.” [1] The key element of this definition is the requirement that the constitution is a ‘document’, that it is written down in a codified form. Almost every country in the world has a written constitution which is contained within one document as this definition suggests, and in fact there are only three states who have an unwritten constitution – the United Kingdom, Israel and New Zealand.[2] According to this narrow definition, these states have no constitution as it is not written down in a document. Bradley and Ewing also discuss a wider definition of the term, which would encompass the constitutions of the UK, Israel and New Zealand: “The whole system of government of a country, the collection of rules which establish and regulate and govern the government”. [3] Under this meaning there is no need for the constitution to be written down or codified in a single document. Interestingly the same, ‘wider’, definition is adopted in the Oxford English Dictionary, which makes no mention of a ‘document’: “The system or body of fundamental principles according to which a nation, state or body politic is constituted and governed.”[4] The purpose of a constitution is to set out an “enduring statement of fundamental principles”.[5] It is around these fundamental principles that the law of the country is based and theoretically, as long as the fundamentals of the constitution are adhered to, the basic acknowledged rights of the people of that country will be met. A constitution will be the supreme law of a country, and will override any other law which is enacted. Another purpose of a constitution is to act as a ‘framework’ for other legislation. Bradley and Ewing state that that around any constitution will be a variety of rules and customs which will “adjust the operation of the constitution to changing conditions”.[6] In this way,

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