The British Constitution

A constitution sets out how a community has agreed to be governed. The British Constitution is a unique, time-worn set of principles and rules, some unwritten, which have developed alongside the historical events in Britain’s journey from Magna Carta Libertatum (1215) to the present day. It has three sectors: the legislative (Parliament), the executive (the Cabinet, Prime Minister, Civil Service and the Monarchy) and the judicial (judges and the court system).

Unlike other countries, Britain does not have a single document that lays out its Constitution; it would be the length of an encyclopedia if one did exist. Instead, it comprises Magna Carta, the Petition of Right  (1628), the Bill of Rights (1689), common law, the Statutes, the precedents set by judges’ decisions (case law) and the conventions.

One only has to look at the power-shifting relationship between the Houses of Lords and Commons which began with the Reform Act of 1832 to appreciate the value of the British Constitution’s flexibility, as well as the existence of various checks and balances, so that modifications are gradual and careful. It has been described as a ‘delicate machinery’ in which any change filters through the apparatus, but that is how it maintains its somewhat quirky integrity.

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