‘The case for Britain retaining its uncodified constitution remains extremely strong’ – Discuss
The British constitution itself is flexible as it allows the constitutions to evolve and generally adapt to the changing society. Compared to the US whose constitution is described as ‘rigid’; through the struggle of being able to amend constitutions; for example, the ‘right to bear arms’ amendment, which basically gives registered citizens the right to keep and bear arms (weapons). The topic of amending this constitution is very controversial, however due to the constitution being codified the process is very difficult, as is it entrenched and has been a part of the US culture for centuries. The flexibility of the British constitution is also shown through the constitutional reforms developed by Labour, which not only modernised by also is argued to have strengthened the British constitution. Due to this ability of being flexible and being able to change and adapt, the case for Britain retaining its constitution is in fact ‘extremely strong’. In this essay, I will be analysing the strengths of the British constitution and comparing it to a codified constitution, I will also discuss its weaknesses and whether ‘extremely strong’ is an exaggeration and it lacks the qualities of a reliable constitution.
During 1997, the Labour party developed a series of manifesto’s stating constitutional reforms which later on came into effect in 2005. They believed the British politics needed to be modernised and brought up to date. Labour also believed that the citizens lacked protections towards their human rights due to the unentrenched uncodified constitution. Lastly, Labour argued the executive to have too much power, with a weak legislature to restrain this power. In 1997, Labour was successful as they won a landslide victory and created a majority government. Many may argue they were successful through the modernisation process, this is shown through the separation of powers, the supreme courts and the battle of reform on the House of Lords, stopping hereditary voting rights. Overall, it is debatable that these changes have not only modernised but also strengthened the British constitution.
The British constitutions is said to follow 3 main sources; statue law, common law and conventions. Statute law identifies the importance of parliamentary sovereignty; as Britain is a unitary state, the doctrine allows the Westminster Parliament to retain supreme political power within the UK system of government, any other power is said to be delegated or even ‘devolved’ powers which ultimately can be withdrawn. The right wing Conservatives argue a codified constitution to undermine the notion of parliamentary sovereignty through its constitution being seen as the ‘highest law’ of the land and cannot be overruled, this is argued to be unconstitutional. One function of the constitution is the importance of the relationships between political institutions; Britain; ‘regulates the relationships between the state and the citizen.’ (Bill Coxhall, 1998), one way in which this is shown is through the public being able to elect members of parliament to represent them, this way they maintain a strong MP-constituency link which allows the public to hold them accountable and vote them out come next election. Another argument for the British constitution could be its flexibility; this allows the constitution to evolve with the change of society over time, this flexibility also allows for devolution. For example, the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland Act 1998, created state assemblies for these elected executives.
Another function of a constitution is to clearly outline the rights of the citizens, ensuring the citizens are aware of their right; however, it can be argued that the British constitution is seen as confusing and rather unclear, compared to America where the citizens are able to purchase a book of constitutions which clearly establishing their rights. This results in general unawareness and weakness in protection of the rights. Some may argue that an uncodified constitution allows the government to manipulate and interpret the constitution in a way to fit their own policies; this is because some of the documents are not written and the ones that are written down are not entrenched. For example, the Human Rights Act is one of the documents which are written down but is not entrenched, this results in the government having the right to either manipulate it constitution or completely remove it, highly unlikely but it still a possibility.
In conclusion, the British constitution have many strengths such as; the parliamentary sovereignty (the unitary nature where powers belongs to parliament), its flexibility which allows it to evolve and adapt and unlike the USA, the UK has a one tier legal system which mean there is no ‘higher law’ and no law is supreme enough to get overruled. On the other hand, the constitution has proven to have its weaknesses such as the lack of protections of rights, the rights of the citizens being seen as unclear and lastly government being able to interpret and manipulate the constitution to suit them. Overall, as I mentioned in the introduction the ability of being able to adapt and evolve is crucial for a constitution, without this the Labour party would not have been able to implement any if the changes, therefore overall the British constitution should be retained.