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...