Advantages of an Unwritten Constitution

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Law   of   the   Constitution
Formative   assessment

A   constitution   can   be   defined   as   “a   body   of   rules   which   regulates   the   system   of   government   within   a   state.   It   establishes   the   bodies   and   institutions   which   form   part   of that   system,   it   provides   for   the   powers   which   they   are   to   exercise,   it   determines   how   they are   to   interact   and   co-exist   with   one   another   and   perhaps   most   importantly   of   all   it   is   concerned   with   the relationship   between   the   government   and   the   individual”. In   simpler   terms   it   is   “that   set   of   legal   rules   which   governs   the   relationship   in   a   state   between   the   ruler   and   the   ruled” The   term   constitution   can   also   be   used   to   describe   a   single   document   that   incorporates   all   of   the   above   rules   and   regulations.   This   is   referred   to   as   a   written   constitution.   The   UK   is   one   of   very   few   modern   day   democracies   along   with   New   Zealand   and   Israel   that   does   not,   as   yet,   have   a   written   constitution   and   discussed   further   shall   be   the   question   of   whether   the   unwritten   nature   of   the   UK   constitution   is   an   advantage   or   if   in   fact   we   do   need   a   full   written   constitution   to   “bring   us   in   line   with   the   most   progressive   democracies   in   the   world”.

The   purpose   of   a constitution   is   to   prevent   the   government   from   doing   as   it   pleases i.e.   To   avoid   tyranny   and   secondly   to   protect   the   rights   and   liberties   of   the   individual. Some   critics   such   as   Thomas   Paine   and   more   recently   F. F. Ridley # would   argue   that   the   UK   does   not   have   a   constitution   at   all   since   none   of   the   above   purposes   of   a   constitution   are   met   in   the   absence of   a   written   constitutional   document. However   the   traditional   view   taken   by   academics   such   as   A. v. Dicey   and   Sir   Ivor   Jennings   is   that   the   UK   does   in   fact   have   a   constitution   but   it   cannot   be   located   in   one single   document.   In   his   book   Dicey   defended   Britain’s   system of   an   unwritten   constitution   and   argued   that   this   was   in   fact   a positive gain.

The   idea   of   a   single   codified   document   was   brought   about   in   the   late   18th   century   when   the   United   States   gained   independence   from   Britain   and   in   Europe   the   occurrence   of   the   French   Revolution.   France   were   forced   to   draw   up   a   written   constitution   in   response   to   revolt   and   war   whilst   for   America   a  

written   constitution   was   an   essential   step   in   their   bid   for   independence.

Generally   countries   draw   up   written   constitutions   when   there   is   a   break   in   the   past   and   a   time   has   come   for   a   fresh   start. Since   medieval   times   the   UK   has   been   consistently   governed,   there   has   never   been   a   successful   invasion   or   revolution   that   would   force   the   breakdown   of   the   organised   structures   of   our   constitution   resulting   in   the   need   for   a   written   constitution.

Written   constitutions   often   lay   down   special   procedures   for   amending   the   constitution   such   as   in   article   5   of   the   US   constitution   which   states   that   two thirds   of   both   houses   of   the   congress   or   two   thirds   of   the   legislatures   of   the   states   can   make   amendments   to   the   constitution,   in   contrast   there   is   no   special   procedure   for   changing   any   part   of   the   UK   constitution,   all   that   is   necessary   for...
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