To What Extent Does the Doctrine of Parliamentary Supremacy Explain why the UK Continues to Have an Uncodified Constitution? It is well known among the legal and political communities across the world that the UK possesses quite a unique constitution. Our constitution is different to most others, with the possible exception of Israel and New Zealand, because it is not codified, or contained within one written document. The most recognisable codified constitution is that of the USA, which is contained in one old, formal looking document that is freely available for their public to see. Having an uncodified constitution has been a somewhat contentious issue for the British over time; however the real question that must be asked is why we continue to proceed with an uncodified document and what reason(s) we have for not having codified it some time ago, in accordance with most of the rest of the world. One such potential reason is that it may infringe on the doctrine of Parliamentary supremacy and that a codified constitution would become the de facto supreme control on British laws, as opposed to Parliament, which has been sovereign since the Bill of Rights was passed in 1689. Of course, there are those that would argue that the doctrine of Parliamentary supremacy has little or no effect on our continued use of an uncodified constitution.
The first argument for our continued use of an uncodified constitution being down to the doctrine of Parliamentary supremacy could be formulated from Dicey’s analysis of the constitution, which sets out the fact that Parliament is indeed sovereign and must remain so, regardless of the constitution or monarch in place at the current time. From this, it could be taken that the constitution has not been codified and made the highest form of legal authority so that the judiciary would not be able to override and refuse to observe Parliamentary statutes on the basis of them being ‘unconstitutional’, as could be done in America. Dicey’s appropriation of the doctrine of Parliamentary supremacy as the core value of British politics and law forms the basis of any argument that our continued use of an uncodified constitution is so as not to undermine the doctrine or even to reinforce the doctrine itself. There have been a series of proposed reforms to the constitution and the desire to codify, entrench and give it a higher place in British law have been expressed time and again. Of the three main proposals for constitutional reform, Tony Benn’s proposal in 1992 was the first to propose a complete procedural overhaul of the British political system, turning it into a Commonwealth with no monarch, replacing the House of Lords with a publically elected Senate of sorts and the instating of a president and for the constitution only to be amended through referenda, all in order to uphold and follow the new, more rigid constitution. Though the new, reformed House of Lords would not strictly be a constitutional court, this reform would clearly undermine, if not destroy the Doctrine of Parliamentary supremacy and instead, place that power into the constitution and give the Judiciary the ability to challenge any Bill that Parliament should put forward. It can be argued that is mainly, if not only because our system seeks to protect the sovereignty of Parliament; that this proposal never came into effect, because were the Doctrine of Parliamentary supremacy not so important, or even vital to our political system, there would have been no reason to turn this idea into a fully functioning system. Another, more contemporary argument asserting that Parliamentary Supremacy is what prevents the UK from adopting a codified constitution can be taken from Robert Hazell’s publication ‘Towards a New Constitutional Settlement: An Agenda for Gordon Brown’s First 100 Days and Beyond’, which details a list of political difficulties that would arise, should Britain attempt to adopt a written constitution. One of the reasons...
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