Constitution of the United Kingdom
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The constitution of the United Kingdom or British constitution comprises the written and unwritten arrangements that establish the
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a country in Europe, off the north-western coast of the European mainland, continental mainland. It comprises England, Scotlan ...

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
as a political body. Unlike in most countries, no attempt has been made to codify such arrangements into a single document, thus it is known as an uncodified constitution. This enables the constitution to be easily changed as no provisions are formally entrenched; the
Supreme Court of the United Kingdom The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom (initialism: UKSC or the acronym: SCOTUK) is the Supreme court, final court of appeal in the United Kingdom for all civil cases, and for criminal cases originating in England, Wales and Northern Ireland ...
recognises that there are constitutional principles, including
parliamentary sovereignty Parliamentary sovereignty, also called parliamentary supremacy or legislative supremacy, is a concept in the constitutional law of some parliamentary democracies. It holds that the legislative body has absolute sovereignty and is supreme over all ...
, the
rule of law The rule of law is the political philosophy that all citizens and institutions within a country, state, or community are accountable to the same laws, including lawmakers and leaders. The rule of law is defined in the ''Encyclopedia Britannica ...

rule of law
,
democracy Democracy (From grc, δημοκρατία, dēmokratía, ''dēmos'' 'people' and ''kratos'' 'rule') is a form of government in which people, the people have the authority to deliberate and decide legislation ("direct democracy"), or to choo ...

democracy
, and upholding
international law International law (also known as public international law and the law of nations) is the set of rules, norms, and standards generally recognized as binding between State (polity), states. It establishes normative guidelines and a common conceptua ...
. The Supreme Court also recognises that some
Acts of Parliament Acts of Parliament, sometimes referred to as primary legislation, are texts of law passed by the Legislature, legislative body of a jurisdiction (often a parliament or council). In most countries with a parliamentary system of government, acts of ...
have special constitutional status, and are therefore part of the constitution. These include
Magna Carta (Medieval Latin for "Great Charter of Freedoms"), commonly called (also ''Magna Charta''; "Great Charter"), is a royal charter of rights agreed to by King John of England at Runnymede, near Windsor, Berkshire, Windsor, on 15 June 1215. ...

Magna Carta
, which in 1215 required the King to call a "common counsel" (now called
Parliament In modern politics, and history, a parliament is a legislative body of government. Generally, a modern parliament has three functions: Representation (politics), representing the Election#Suffrage, electorate, making laws, and overseeing ...
) to represent people, to hold courts in a fixed place, to guarantee fair trials, to guarantee free movement of people, to free the church from the state, and to guarantee rights of "common" people to use the land. (Most of Magna Carta is no longer in force; those principles it established that still exist are mostly protected by other enactments.) After the
Wars of the Three Kingdoms The Wars of the Three Kingdoms were a series of related conflicts fought between 1639 and 1653 in the kingdoms of Kingdom of England, England, Kingdom of Scotland, Scotland and Kingdom of Ireland, Ireland, then separate entities united in a pers ...
and the
Glorious Revolution The Glorious Revolution; gd, Rèabhlaid Ghlòrmhor; cy, Chwyldro Gogoneddus , also known as the ''Glorieuze Overtocht'' or ''Glorious Crossing'' in the Netherlands, is the sequence of events leading to the deposition of King James II and ...
, the
Bill of Rights 1689 The Bill of Rights 1689 is an Act of the Parliament of England The Parliament of England was the legislature of the Kingdom of England from the 13th century until 1707 when it was replaced by the Parliament of Great Britain. Parliam ...
and the
Claim of Right Act 1689 The Claim of Right (c. 28) is an Act passed by the Convention of the Estates, a sister body to the Parliament of Scotland The Parliament of Scotland ( sco, Pairlament o Scotland; gd, Pàrlamaid na h-Alba) was the legislature of the King ...
cemented Parliament's position as the supreme law making body, and said that the "election of members of Parliament ought to be free". The
Treaty of Union The Treaty of Union is the name usually now given to the treaty which led to the creation of the new state of kingdom of Great Britain, Great Britain, stating that the Kingdom of England (which already included Wales) and the Kingdom of Sco ...

Treaty of Union
between England and Scotland in 1706, followed by two
Acts of Union 1707 The Acts of Union ( gd, Achd an Aonaidh) were two Act of Parliament, Acts of Parliament: the Union with Scotland Act 1706 passed by the Parliament of England, and the Union with England Act 1707 passed by the Parliament of Scotland. They put ...
, one in the Scottish, the other in the English parliament, unified England, Wales and Scotland. Ireland joined in a similar way through the Acts of Union 1801. The
Irish Free State The Irish Free State ( ga, Saorstát Éireann, , ; 6 December 192229 December 1937) was a State (polity), state established in December 1922 under the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921. The treaty ended the three-year Irish War of Independ ...
separated after the 1921
Anglo-Irish Treaty The 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty ( ga , An Conradh Angla-Éireannach), commonly known in Ireland as The Treaty and officially the Articles of Agreement for a Treaty Between Great Britain and Ireland, was an agreement between the government of the ...
took effect in 1922. Northern Ireland remained within the union. After a slow process of electoral reform, the UK guaranteed every adult citizen (21 years or older) the equal right to vote in the
Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928 The Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928 was an Act of Parliament, Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. This act expanded on the Representation of the People Act 1918 which had given some women the vote in Parliamentary ...
. After World War II, the UK became a founding member of the
Council of Europe The Council of Europe (CoE; french: Conseil de l'Europe, ) is an international organisation founded in the wake of World War II to uphold European Convention on Human Rights, human rights, democracy and the Law in Europe, rule of law in Europe. ...

Council of Europe
to uphold human rights, and the
United Nations The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organization whose stated purposes are to maintain international peace and international security, security, develop friendly relations among nations, achieve international cooperation, and be ...

United Nations
to guarantee international peace and security. The UK was a member of the
European Union The European Union (EU) is a supranational union, supranational political union, political and economic union of Member state of the European Union, member states that are located primarily in Europe, Europe. The union has a total area of ...

European Union
, whose predecessor the
European Communities The European Communities (EC) were three international organizations that were governed by the same set of institutions Institutions are humanly devised structures of rules and norms that shape and constrain individual behavior. All defin ...
(the Common Market) it first joined in 1973, but left in 2020. The UK is also a founding member of the
International Labour Organization The International Labour Organization (ILO) is a United Nations agency whose mandate is to advance social and economic justice by setting international labour standards. Founded in October 1919 under the League of Nations, it is the first and ol ...

International Labour Organization
and the
World Trade Organization The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an intergovernmental organization Globalization is social change associated with increased connectivity among societies and their elements and the explosive evolution of transportation and telecommunica ...
to participate in regulating the global economy. The leading institutions in the United Kingdom's constitution are Parliament, the judiciary, the executive, the and regional and local governments, including the devolved legislatures and executives of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Parliament is the supreme law-making body, and represents the people of the United Kingdom. It consists of the monarch and two houses. The
House of Commons The House of Commons is the name for the elected lower house of the bicameral parliaments of the United Kingdom and Canada. In both of these countries, the Commons holds much more legislative power than the nominally upper house of parliament. T ...
is elected by a democratic vote in the country's 650 constituencies. The
House of Lords The House of Lords, also known as the House of Peers, is the Bicameralism, upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Membership is by Life peer, appointment, Hereditary peer, heredity or Lords Spiritual, official function. Like the ...
, historically dominated by hereditary peers, is now (and especially since 2000) mostly appointed by cross-political party groups from the House of Commons; since it lacks democratic legitimacy, it has no power to block legislation introduced in the Commons. To make a new
Act of Parliament Acts of Parliament, sometimes referred to as primary legislation, are texts of law passed by the legislative body of a jurisdiction (often a parliament or council). In most countries with a parliamentary system of government, acts of parliame ...
, the highest form of law, both Houses must read, amend, or approve proposed legislation three times and the monarch must give their consent. The judiciary interprets the law found in Acts of Parliament and develops the law established by previous cases. The highest court is the twelve-person Supreme Court, as it decides appeals from the Courts of Appeal in England, Wales, and
Northern Ireland Northern Ireland ( ga, Tuaisceart Éireann ; sco, label=Ulster Scots dialect, Ulster-Scots, Norlin Airlann) is a part of the United Kingdom, situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland, that is #Descriptions, variously described as ...
, or the
Court of Session The Court of Session is the supreme civil court of Scotland and constitutes part of the College of Justice; the supreme criminal court of Scotland is the High Court of Justiciary. The Court of Session sits in Parliament House in Edinbur ...
in Scotland. It does not however hear criminal appeals from Scotland. British courts cannot declare Acts of Parliament to be unconstitutional, but can determine whether the acts of the executive are lawful (and invalidate them with quashing orders if so), or declare any law to be incompatible with the
European Convention on Human Rights The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR; formally the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) is an international convention to protect human rights and political freedoms in Europe. Drafted in 1950 by th ...
(which does not affect its validity and enforcement). The executive manages the United Kingdom day to day. The executive is led by the
prime minister A prime minister, premier or chief of cabinet is the head of the Cabinet (government), cabinet and the leader of the Minister (government), ministers in the Executive (government), executive branch of government, often in a parliamentary syst ...
who is appointed by the monarch and invited to try to form a government, which by convention must have the support of Parliament. The prime minister appoints the cabinet of other ministers, who lead the executive departments, staffed by civil servants, such as the
Department of Health and Social Care The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) is a Departments of the Government of the United Kingdom, department of Government of the United Kingdom, His Majesty's Government responsible for government policy on health and adult social care ma ...
which runs the
National Health Service The National Health Service (NHS) is the umbrella term for the publicly funded health care, publicly funded healthcare systems of the United Kingdom (UK). Since 1948, they have been funded out of general taxation. There are three systems which ...
, or the
Department for Education The Department for Education (DfE) is a Departments of the Government of the United Kingdom, department of Government of the United Kingdom, His Majesty's Government responsible for child protection, child services, Education in England, educa ...
which funds schools and universities. The
monarch A monarch is a head of stateWebster's II New College DictionarMonarch Houghton Mifflin. Boston. 2001. p. 707. Life tenure, for life or until abdication, and therefore the head of state of a monarchy. A monarch may exercise the highest authority ...
in their public capacity, known as the Crown, embodies the state. Laws can only be made by or with the authority of the Crown in Parliament, all judges sit in place of the Crown and all ministers act in the name of the Crown. The monarch is for the most part a ceremonial figurehead. When giving
royal assent Royal assent is the method by which a monarch formally approves an act of the legislature, either directly or through an official acting on the monarch's behalf. In some jurisdictions, royal assent is equivalent to promulgation, while in other ...
to new laws, the monarch has not refused to sign any new law since the
Scottish Militia Bill The Scottish Militia Bill 1708 (known formerly as the Scotch Militia Bill) was a Bill (proposed law), bill that was passed by the British House of Commons, House of Commons and House of Lords of the Parliament of Great Britain, Parliament of Kin ...
in 1708, and it is a constitutional convention that the monarch follows the advice of ministers. Most litigation over the British constitution takes place in
judicial review Judicial review is a process under which executive, legislative and administrative actions are subject to review by the judiciary The judiciary (also known as the judicial system, judicature, judicial branch, judiciative branch, and cou ...
applications, to decide whether the decisions or acts of public bodies are lawful. All public authority ultimately derives from the Crown, either under the common law or as granted by Parliament. Every public body can only act in accordance with the law, as declared in Acts of Parliament and the decisions of the courts. Under the
Human Rights Act 1998 The Human Rights Act 1998 (c. 42) is an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom which received royal assent on 9 November 1998, and came into force on 2 October 2000. Its aim was to incorporate into UK law the rights contained in the European Con ...
, courts may review government action to decide whether the government has followed the statutory obligation on all public authorities to comply with the
European Convention on Human Rights The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR; formally the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) is an international convention to protect human rights and political freedoms in Europe. Drafted in 1950 by th ...
. Convention rights include everyone's rights to life,
liberty Liberty is the ability to do as one pleases, or a right or immunity enjoyed by prescription or by grant (i.e. privilege). It is a synonym for the word freedom. In modern politics, liberty is understood as the state of being free within society fr ...
against arbitrary arrest or detention,
torture Torture is the deliberate infliction of severe pain or suffering on a person for reasons such as punishment, extracting a confession, interrogational torture, interrogation for information, or intimidating third parties. definitions of tortur ...
, and forced labour or slavery, to a
fair trial A fair (archaic: faire or fayre) is a gathering of people for a variety of entertainment or commercial activities. Fairs are typically temporary with scheduled times lasting from an afternoon to several weeks. Types Variations of fairs incl ...
, to privacy against unlawful surveillance, to freedom of expression, conscience and religion, to respect for private life, to freedom of association including joining
trade union A trade union (labor union in American English), often simply referred to as a union, is an organization of workers intent on "maintaining or improving the conditions of their employment", ch. I such as attaining better wages and Employee ben ...
s, and to freedom of assembly and protest.


Principles

Although the British constitution is not codified, the Supreme Court recognises constitutional principles, and constitutional statutes, which shape the use of political power. The main sources of constitutional law are Acts of Parliament, court cases, and conventions in the way that government, Parliament and the monarch act. There are at least four main constitutional principles recognised by the courts. First,
parliamentary sovereignty Parliamentary sovereignty, also called parliamentary supremacy or legislative supremacy, is a concept in the constitutional law of some parliamentary democracies. It holds that the legislative body has absolute sovereignty and is supreme over all ...
means that Acts of Parliament are the supreme source of law. Through the
English Reformation The English Reformation took place in 16th-century England when the Church of England broke away from the authority of the pope and the Catholic Church. These events were part of the wider European Protestant Reformation, a religious and poli ...
, the
Civil War A civil war or intrastate war is a war between organized groups within the same Sovereign state, state (or country). The aim of one side may be to take control of the country or a region, to achieve independence for a region, or to change go ...
, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the
Acts of Union 1707 The Acts of Union ( gd, Achd an Aonaidh) were two Act of Parliament, Acts of Parliament: the Union with Scotland Act 1706 passed by the Parliament of England, and the Union with England Act 1707 passed by the Parliament of Scotland. They put ...
, Parliament became the dominant branch of the state, above the judiciary, executive, monarchy, and church. Although there are a number of formal limitations on the laws Parliament can make, contained in the 1707 Treaty of Union between England and Scotland, it is sometimes asserted that Parliament can make or unmake any law, a fact that is usually justified by Parliament being democratically elected, and upholding the
rule of law The rule of law is the political philosophy that all citizens and institutions within a country, state, or community are accountable to the same laws, including lawmakers and leaders. The rule of law is defined in the ''Encyclopedia Britannica ...

rule of law
, including human rights and international law. Second, the rule of law has run through the constitution as a fundamental principle from the earliest times as "The king must enbsp;... under the law, because the law makes the king" (
Henry de Bracton Henry of Bracton, also Henry de Bracton, also Henricus Bracton, or Henry Bratton also Henry Bretton (c. 1210 – c. 1268) was an English cleric and jurist. He is famous now for his writings on law, particularly ''De legibus et consuetudinib ...
in the 13th century). This principle was recognised in
Magna Carta (Medieval Latin for "Great Charter of Freedoms"), commonly called (also ''Magna Charta''; "Great Charter"), is a royal charter of rights agreed to by King John of England at Runnymede, near Windsor, Berkshire, Windsor, on 15 June 1215. ...

Magna Carta
and the
Petition of Right 1628 The Petition of Right, passed on 7 June 1628, is an English constitutional document setting out specific individual protections against the state, reportedly of equal value to Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights 1689. It was part of a wider c ...
. This means the government may only conduct itself according to legal authority, including respect for human rights. Third, at least since
1928 Events January * January – British bacteriologist Frederick Griffith reports the results of Griffith's experiment, indirectly proving the existence of DNA. * January 1 January 1 or 1 January is the first day of the year in ...
, elections in which all capable adults participate have become a fundamental constitutional principle. Originally only wealthy, property-owning men held rights to vote for the
House of Commons The House of Commons is the name for the elected lower house of the bicameral parliaments of the United Kingdom and Canada. In both of these countries, the Commons holds much more legislative power than the nominally upper house of parliament. T ...
, while the monarch, occasionally together with a hereditary
House of Lords The House of Lords, also known as the House of Peers, is the Bicameralism, upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Membership is by Life peer, appointment, Hereditary peer, heredity or Lords Spiritual, official function. Like the ...
, dominated politics. From 1832 onwards adult citizens slowly obtained the right to
universal suffrage Universal suffrage (also called universal franchise, general suffrage, and common suffrage of the common man) gives the right to vote to all adult citizens, regardless of wealth, income, gender, social status, race, ethnicity, or political sta ...
. Fourth, the British constitution is bound to international law, as Parliament has chosen to increase its practical power in cooperation with other countries in international organisations, such as the
International Labour Organization The International Labour Organization (ILO) is a United Nations agency whose mandate is to advance social and economic justice by setting international labour standards. Founded in October 1919 under the League of Nations, it is the first and ol ...

International Labour Organization
, the
United Nations The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organization whose stated purposes are to maintain international peace and international security, security, develop friendly relations among nations, achieve international cooperation, and be ...

United Nations
, the
European Convention on Human Rights The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR; formally the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) is an international convention to protect human rights and political freedoms in Europe. Drafted in 1950 by th ...
, the
World Trade Organization The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an intergovernmental organization Globalization is social change associated with increased connectivity among societies and their elements and the explosive evolution of transportation and telecommunica ...
, and the
International Criminal Court The International Criminal Court (ICC or ICCt) is an intergovernmental organization and International court, international tribunal seated in The Hague, Netherlands. It is the first and only permanent international court with jurisdiction to pro ...
. However, the UK left membership of the
European Union The European Union (EU) is a supranational union, supranational political union, political and economic union of Member state of the European Union, member states that are located primarily in Europe, Europe. The union has a total area of ...

European Union
in 2020 after a
referendum A referendum (plural: referendums or less commonly referenda) is a Direct democracy, direct vote by the Constituency, electorate on a proposal, law, or political issue. This is in contrast to an issue being voted on by a Representative democr ...
in 2016.


Parliamentary sovereignty

Parliamentary sovereignty is often seen as a central element in the British constitution, although its extent is contested. It means that an Act of Parliament is the highest form of law, but also that "Parliament cannot bind itself". Historically, Parliament became sovereign through a series of power struggles between the monarch, the church, the courts, and the people.
Magna Carta (Medieval Latin for "Great Charter of Freedoms"), commonly called (also ''Magna Charta''; "Great Charter"), is a royal charter of rights agreed to by King John of England at Runnymede, near Windsor, Berkshire, Windsor, on 15 June 1215. ...

Magna Carta
in 1215, which came from the conflict leading to the
First Barons' War The First Barons' War (1215–1217) was a civil war in the Kingdom of England in which a group of rebellious major landowners (commonly referred to as English feudal barony, barons) led by Robert Fitzwalter waged war against John of England, Ki ...
, granted the right of Parliament to exist for "common counsel" before any tax, against the "
divine right of kings In European Christianity, the divine right of kings, divine right, or God's mandation is a political and religious doctrine of political legitimacy of a monarchy. It stems from a specific Metaphysics, metaphysical framework in which a monarch ...
" to rule.
Common land Common land is land owned by a person or collectively by a number of persons, over which other persons have certain common rights, such as to allow their livestock to graze upon it, to collect Wood fuel, wood, or to cut turf for fuel. A person ...
was guaranteed to people to farm, graze, hunt or fish, though aristocrats continued to dominate politics. In the
Act of Supremacy 1534 The Acts of Supremacy are two acts passed by the Parliament of England in the 16th century that established the English monarchs as the head of the Church of England; two similar laws were passed by the Parliament of Ireland establishing the Eng ...
,
King Henry VIII Henry VIII (28 June 149128 January 1547) was King of England from 22 April 1509 until his death in 1547. Henry is best known for his Wives of Henry VIII, six marriages, and for his efforts to have his first marriage (to Catherine of Aragon) ...
asserted his divine right over the
Catholic Church The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the List of Christian denominations by number of members, largest Christian church, with 1.3 billion baptized Catholics Catholic Church by country, worldwide . It is am ...
in Rome, declaring himself the supreme leader of the
Church of England The Church of England (C of E) is the State religion, established List of Christian denominations, Christian church in England and the mother church of the international Anglican Communion. It traces its history to the Christian church record ...
. Then in the '' Earl of Oxford's case'' in 1615, the
Lord Chancellor The lord chancellor, formally the lord high chancellor of Great Britain, is the highest-ranking traditional minister among the Great Officers of State (United Kingdom), Great Officers of State in Scotland and England in the United Kingdom, no ...
(both the King's representative and head of the
judiciary The judiciary (also known as the judicial system, judicature, judicial branch, judiciative branch, and court or judiciary system) is the system of courts that adjudication, adjudicates legal disputes/disagreements and interprets, defends, and app ...
) asserted the supremacy of the
Court of Chancery The Court of Chancery was a court of equity in England and Wales England and Wales () is one of the three legal jurisdictions of the United Kingdom. It covers the constituent countries England and Wales and was formed by the Laws in Wa ...
over the common law courts, contradicting Sir
Edward Coke Edward is an English given name A given name (also known as a forename or first name) is the part of a personal name quoted in that identifies a person, potentially with a middle name as well, and differentiates that person from the other ...
's assertion that judges could declare statutes void if they went "against common right and reason". After the
Glorious Revolution The Glorious Revolution; gd, Rèabhlaid Ghlòrmhor; cy, Chwyldro Gogoneddus , also known as the ''Glorieuze Overtocht'' or ''Glorious Crossing'' in the Netherlands, is the sequence of events leading to the deposition of King James II and ...
of 1688, the
Bill of Rights 1689 The Bill of Rights 1689 is an Act of the Parliament of England The Parliament of England was the legislature of the Kingdom of England from the 13th century until 1707 when it was replaced by the Parliament of Great Britain. Parliam ...
cemented Parliament's power over the monarch, and therefore over the church and courts. Parliament became "
sovereign ''Sovereign'' is a title which can be applied to the highest leader in various categories. The word is borrowed from Old French , which is ultimately derived from the Latin , meaning 'above'. The roles of a sovereign vary from monarch, ruler or ...
", and supreme. Only 18 years later however, the English Parliament abolished itself in order to create the new "Union" Parliament following on the Treaty of Union between England and Scotland, while the Scottish Parliament did likewise. Power struggles within Parliament continued between the aristocracy and
common people A commoner, also known as the ''common man'', ''commoners'', the ''common people'' or the ''masses'', was in earlier use an ordinary person in a community or nation who did not have any significant social status, especially a member of neither ...
. Outside Parliament, people from the
Chartists Chartism was a working-class The working class (or labouring class) comprises those engaged in manual labour, manual-labour occupations or industrial work, who are remunerated via wage, waged or salary, salaried contracts. Working-class ...
to the
trade unions A trade union (labor union in American English), often simply referred to as a union, is an organization of workers intent on "maintaining or improving the conditions of their employment", ch. I such as attaining better wages and Employee ben ...
fought for the vote in the
House of Commons The House of Commons is the name for the elected lower house of the bicameral parliaments of the United Kingdom and Canada. In both of these countries, the Commons holds much more legislative power than the nominally upper house of parliament. T ...
. The
Parliament Act 1911 The Parliament Act 1911 (1 & 2 Geo. 5 c. 13) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom The Parliament of the United Kingdom is the Parliamentary sovereignty in the United Kingdom, supreme Legislature, legislative body of the Uni ...
ensured the Commons would prevail in any conflict over the unelected
House of Lords The House of Lords, also known as the House of Peers, is the Bicameralism, upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Membership is by Life peer, appointment, Hereditary peer, heredity or Lords Spiritual, official function. Like the ...
. The
Parliament Act 1949 The Parliament Act 1949 (12, 13 & 14 Geo. 6 c. 103) is an Acts of Parliament in the United Kingdom, Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It reduced the power of the House of Lords to delay certain types of legislation – specifical ...
ensured the Lords could only delay legislation by one year, and not delay any budgetary measure over a month. In a leading case, '' R (Jackson) v Attorney General'', a group of pro-hunting protestors challenged the
Hunting Act 2004 The Hunting Act 2004 (c 37) is an Act of Parliament, Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which bans the hunting of most wild mammals (notably Red fox, foxes, deer, European hare, hares and American mink, mink) with dogs in England and W ...
's ban on fox hunting, arguing it was not a valid Act because it was passed avoiding the House of Lords, using the Parliament Acts. They argued that the 1949 Act itself was passed using the 1911 Act's power to override the Lords in two years. The claimants argued that this meant the 1949 Act should not be considered a valid law, because the 1911 Act was limited in scope and could not be used to amend its own limitation of the Lords' power. The House of Lords, sitting as the UK's highest court, rejected this argument, holding both the
Parliament Act 1949 The Parliament Act 1949 (12, 13 & 14 Geo. 6 c. 103) is an Acts of Parliament in the United Kingdom, Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It reduced the power of the House of Lords to delay certain types of legislation – specifical ...
and the
Hunting Act 2004 The Hunting Act 2004 (c 37) is an Act of Parliament, Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which bans the hunting of most wild mammals (notably Red fox, foxes, deer, European hare, hares and American mink, mink) with dogs in England and W ...
to be valid. However, in ''
obiter dicta ''Obiter dictum'' (usually used in the plural, ''obiter dicta'') is a Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in th ...
'' Lord Hope argued that Parliamentary sovereignty "is no longer, if it ever was, absolute", and that the "rule of law enforced by the courts is the ultimate controlling factor on which our constitution is based", and cannot be used to defend unconstitutional Acts (as determined by the courts). There is not yet a consensus on the meaning of "Parliamentary sovereignty", except that its legitimacy depends on the principle of "the democratic process". In recent history, Parliament's sovereignty has evolved in four main ways. First, since 1945 international cooperation meant Parliament augmented its power by working with, not dominating, other sovereign nations. The
British Empire The British Empire was composed of the dominions, Crown colony, colonies, protectorates, League of Nations mandate, mandates, and other Dependent territory, territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom and its predecessor states. I ...
, which once colonised a quarter of the world's population and a third of its land, declined after
World War I World War I (28 July 1914 11 November 1918), often abbreviated as WWI, was List of wars and anthropogenic disasters by death toll, one of the deadliest global conflicts in history. Belligerents included much of Europe, the Russian Empire, ...
and disintegrated after
World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a world war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the World War II by country, vast majority of the world's countries—including all of the great power ...
. While Parliament had nearly uncontested military power before, and so was thought by writers of the Imperial period to be able to "make or unmake any law whatever", the UK chose to join in the
League of Nations The League of Nations (french: link=no, Société des Nations ) was the first worldwide Intergovernmental organization, intergovernmental organisation whose principal mission was to maintain world peace. It was founded on 10 January 1920 by ...
in 1919, and after its failure, the
United Nations The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organization whose stated purposes are to maintain international peace and international security, security, develop friendly relations among nations, achieve international cooperation, and be ...

United Nations
1945 to participate in building a system of
international law International law (also known as public international law and the law of nations) is the set of rules, norms, and standards generally recognized as binding between State (polity), states. It establishes normative guidelines and a common conceptua ...
in place of Empire. The
Treaty of Versailles The Treaty of Versailles (french: Traité de Versailles; german: Versailler Vertrag, ) was the most important of the Peace treaty, peace treaties of World War I. It ended the declaration of war, state of war between Germany and the Allies of ...
in 1919 recalled that "peace can only be established if it is based upon social justice", and the
UN Charter The Charter of the United Nations (UN) is the foundational treaty of the UN, an intergovernmental organization. It establishes the purposes, governing structure, and overall framework of the United Nations System, UN system, including its Organ ...
, "based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members", said that "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind", the UN would "reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights", and members should "live together in peace with one another as good neighbours". The Bretton Woods Agreements Act 1945, United Nations Act 1946 and International Organisations Act 1968 wrote the UK's funding and membership of the United Nations, the
International Monetary Fund The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is a major financial agency of the United Nations, and an international financial institution, headquartered in Washington, D.C., consisting of 190 countries. Its stated mission is "working to foster globa ...
, the
World Bank The World Bank is an international financial institution that provides loans and Grant (money), grants to the governments of Least developed countries, low- and Developing country, middle-income countries for the purpose of pursuing capital pro ...
, and other bodies, into law. For example, the UK bound itself to implement by order UN
Security Council The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is one of the Organs of the United Nations, six principal organs of the United Nations (UN) and is charged with ensuring international security, international peace and security, recommending the admi ...
resolutions, up to the actual use of force, in return for representation in the General Assembly and Security Council. Although the UK has not always clearly followed
international law International law (also known as public international law and the law of nations) is the set of rules, norms, and standards generally recognized as binding between State (polity), states. It establishes normative guidelines and a common conceptua ...
, it has accepted as a formal duty that its sovereignty would not be used unlawfully. Second, in 1950 the UK helped to write and joined the
European Convention on Human Rights The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR; formally the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) is an international convention to protect human rights and political freedoms in Europe. Drafted in 1950 by th ...
. While that convention reflected norms and cases decided under British statutes and the
common law In law, common law (also known as judicial precedent, judge-made law, or case law) is the body of law created by judges and similar quasi-judicial tribunals by virtue of being stated in written opinions."The common law is not a brooding omnipres ...
on
civil liberties Civil liberties are guarantees and freedoms that governments commit not to abridge, either by constitution, legislation, or judicial interpretation, without due process. Though the scope of the term differs between countries, civil liberties may ...
, the UK accepted that people could appeal to the
European Court of Human Rights The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR or ECtHR), also known as the Strasbourg Court, is an international court of the Council of Europe which interprets the European Convention on Human Rights. The court hears applications alleging that a c ...
in
Strasbourg Strasbourg (, , ; german: Straßburg ; gsw, label=Bas Rhin Alsatian dialect, Alsatian, Strossburi , gsw, label=Haut Rhin Alsatian dialect, Alsatian, Strossburig ) is the Prefectures in France, prefecture and largest city of the Grand Est Re ...
, if domestic remedies were not enough. In the
Human Rights Act 1998 The Human Rights Act 1998 (c. 42) is an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom which received royal assent on 9 November 1998, and came into force on 2 October 2000. Its aim was to incorporate into UK law the rights contained in the European Con ...
, Parliament decided that the British judiciary should be required to apply human rights norms directly in determining British cases, to ensure a more speedy, human rights-based resolution to case law, and effectively influence human rights reasoning more. Third, the UK became a member of the
European Union The European Union (EU) is a supranational union, supranational political union, political and economic union of Member state of the European Union, member states that are located primarily in Europe, Europe. The union has a total area of ...

European Union
after the European Communities Act 1972 and through its ratification of the
Maastricht Treaty The Treaty on European Union, commonly known as the Maastricht Treaty, is the foundation treaty of the European Union (EU). Concluded in 1992 between the then-twelve Member state of the European Union, member states of the European Communities, ...
in 1992. The idea of a Union had long been envisaged by European leaders, including
Winston Churchill Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill (30 November 187424 January 1965) was a British statesman, soldier, and writer who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom twice, from 1940 to 1945 Winston Churchill in the Second World War, dur ...
, who in 1946 had called for a "
United States of Europe The United States of Europe (USE), the European State, the European Federation and Federal Europe, is the hypothetical scenario of the European integration leading to formation of a sovereign state, sovereign superstate (similar to the United ...
".e.g. "Speech at the University of Zurich"
19 September 1946
.
e.g. "Speech to the 69th Annual Conservative Party Conference at Llandudno"
9 October 1948
. See J. Danzig, "Winston Churchill: A founder of the European Union" (10 November 2013
EU ROPE
/ref>
EU law European Union law is a system of rules operating within the member states of the European Union (EU). Since the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community following World War II, the EU has developed the aim to "promote peace, its value ...
has long been held to prevail in any conflict between Acts of Parliament for the limited fields in which it operates, but member states and citizens gain control over the scope of EU law, and so extend their sovereignty in international affairs, through joint representation in the
European Parliament The European Parliament (EP) is one of the Legislature, legislative bodies of the European Union and one of its seven Institutions of the European Union, institutions. Together with the Council of the European Union (known as the Council and in ...
,
Council of the European Union The Council of the European Union, often referred to in the treaties and other official documents simply as the Council, and informally known as the Council of Ministers, is the third of the seven Institutions of the European Union (EU) as ...
, and the Commission. This principle was tested in ''
R (Factortame Ltd) v Secretary of State for Transport R, or r, is the eighteenth Letter (alphabet), letter of the Latin alphabet, used in the English alphabet, modern English alphabet, the alphabets of other western European languages and others worldwide. Its name in English is English alphabe ...
'', where a fishing business claimed that it should not be required to have 75% of British shareholders, as the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 said.''R v Secretary of State for Transport, ex parte Factortame Ltd'' 990UKHL 7. Under EU law, the principle of freedom of establishment states that nationals of any member state can freely incorporate and run a business across the EU without unjustified interference. The
House of Lords The House of Lords, also known as the House of Peers, is the Bicameralism, upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Membership is by Life peer, appointment, Hereditary peer, heredity or Lords Spiritual, official function. Like the ...
held that, because the EU law conflicted with the sections of the 1988 Act, those sections would not be enforced, and disapplied, because Parliament had not clearly expressed an intention to renounce the 1972 Act. According to
Lord Bridge Lord is an appellation for a person or deity A deity or god is a supernatural being who is considered divine or sacred. The ''Oxford Dictionary of English'' defines deity as a god In monotheistic thought, God is usually viewed as th ...
"whatever limitation of its sovereignty Parliament accepted when it enacted the 972 Actwas entirely voluntary". It was, therefore, the duty of the courts to apply EU law. On the other hand, in ''
R (HS2 Action Alliance Ltd) v Secretary of State for Transport ''R (HS2 Action Alliance Ltd) v Secretary of State for Transport'' [2014UKSC 3is a UK constitutional law case, concerning the conflict of law between a national legal system and European Union law. Facts The HS2 Action Alliance, Buckinghamshire ...
'' the Supreme Court held that certain fundamental principles of British constitutional law would not be interpreted by the courts as having been given up by membership of the EU, or probably any international organisation. Here a group protesting against the High Speed 2 rail line from London to Manchester and Leeds claimed that the government had not properly followed an Environmental Impact Assessment Directive by whipping a vote in Parliament to approve the plan. They argued that the Directive required open and free consultation, which was not fulfilled if a
party whip A whip is an official of a political party whose task is to ensure party discipline in a legislature. This means ensuring that members of the party vote according to the party platform, rather than according to conscience vote, their own indiv ...
compelled party members to vote. The Supreme Court unanimously held the Directive did not require that no party whip occurred, but if a conflict had existed a Directive would not be able to compromise the fundamental constitutional principle from the
Bill of Rights A bill of rights, sometimes called a declaration of rights or a charter of rights, is a list of the most important rights to the citizens of a country. The purpose is to protect those rights against Civil and political rights, infringement fr ...
that Parliament is free to organise its affairs. Fourth,
devolution in the United Kingdom In the United Kingdom, devolution is the Parliament of the United Kingdom's Statute, statutory granting of a greater level of self-governance, self-government to the Scottish Parliament, the Senedd (Welsh Parliament), the Northern Ireland As ...
has meant Parliament gave power to legislate on specific topics to nations and regions: the
Scotland Act 1998 The Scotland Act 1998 (c. 46) is an Act of Parliament, Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which legislated for the establishment of the Devolution, devolved Scottish Parliament with tax varying powers and the Scottish Government (then S ...
created the
Scottish Parliament The Scottish Parliament ( gd, Pàrlamaid na h-Alba ; sco, Scots Pairlament) is the devolution in the United Kingdom, devolved, unicameralism, unicameral legislature of Scotland. Located in the Holyrood, Edinburgh, Holyrood area of the capital ...
, the
Government of Wales Act 1998 The Government of Wales Act 1998 (c. 38) is an Act of Parliament, Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It was passed in 1998 by the Labour Party (UK), Labour government to create a Senedd Cymru – Welsh Parliament, Welsh Assembly, t ...
created the
Welsh Assembly The Senedd (; ), officially known as the Welsh Parliament in English language, English and () in Welsh language, Welsh, is the Devolution in the United Kingdom, devolved, unicameral legislature of Wales. A democratically elected body, it makes ...
, the
Northern Ireland Act 1998 __NOTOC__ The Northern Ireland Act 1998 is an Act of Parliament, Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which allowed Her Majesty's Government, Westminster to devolve power to Northern Ireland, after decades of Direct rule over Northern Irel ...
created a
Northern Ireland Executive The Northern Ireland Executive is the devolution, devolved government of Northern Ireland, an administrative branch of the legislature – the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is answerable to the assembly and was initially established according ...
following the historic
Good Friday Agreement The Good Friday Agreement (GFA), or Belfast Agreement ( ga, Comhaontú Aoine an Chéasta or ; Ulster Scots dialects, Ulster-Scots: or ), is a pair of agreements signed on 10 April 1998 that ended most of the violence of The Troubles, a po ...
, to bring peace. In addition, the
Local Government Act 1972 The Local Government Act 1972 (c. 70) is an Act of Parliament, Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that reformed local government in the United Kingdom, local government in England and Wales on 1 April 1974. It was one of the most sig ...
and the
Greater London Authority Act 1999 The Greater London Authority Act 1999 (c. 29) is the Act of Parliament that established the Greater London Authority, the London Assembly and the Mayor of London. Background The Act was brought in after 1998 Greater London Authority referendum ...
give more limited powers to local and London governments. Practically, but also constitutionally, it has become increasingly accepted that decisions should not be taken for the UK which would override, and run counter to, the will of regional governments. However, in '' R (Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union'', a group of people who sought to remain in the
European Union The European Union (EU) is a supranational union, supranational political union, political and economic union of Member state of the European Union, member states that are located primarily in Europe, Europe. The union has a total area of ...

European Union
contested the government on whether the Prime Minister could trigger Article 50 to notify the
European Commission The European Commission (EC) is the Executive (government), executive of the European Union (EU). It operates as a cabinet government, with 27 European Commissioner, members of the Commission (informally known as "Commissioners") headed by a P ...
of the UK's intention to leave, without an
Act of Parliament Acts of Parliament, sometimes referred to as primary legislation, are texts of law passed by the legislative body of a jurisdiction (often a parliament or council). In most countries with a parliamentary system of government, acts of parliame ...
. This followed the Brexit poll of 2016 where 51.9% of those voting voted to leave. The claimants argued that, because
Brexit Brexit (; a portmanteau of "British exit") was the Withdrawal from the European Union, withdrawal of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU) at 23:00 Greenwich Mean Time, GMT on 31 January 2020 (00:00 1 February 2020 Central Eur ...
would obliterate rights that Parliament had conferred through Acts of Parliament (such as the right of free movement of British citizens in the EU, the right to fair competition through merger control, and the right to vote for EU institutions) only Parliament could consent to notifying the intention to negotiate to leave under Article 50. They also argued that the Sewel Convention for devolved assemblies, where the assembly passes a motion that the Westminster Parliament can legislate on a devolved matter before it does so, meant the UK could not negotiate to leave without the Scottish, Welsh or Northern Ireland legislatures' consent. The Supreme Court held that the government could not begin the process of leaving purely through
royal prerogative The royal prerogative is a body of customary authority, privilege and immunity, recognized in common law and, sometimes, in Civil law (legal system), civil law jurisdictions possessing a monarchy, as belonging to the monarch, sovereign and whic ...
; Parliament must pass an Act enabling it to do so. However, the Sewel convention could not be enforced by courts, rather than observed. This led Prime Minister
Theresa May Theresa Mary May, Lady May (; née Brasier; born 1 October 1956) is a British politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Conservative Party (UK), Leader of the Conservative Party from 2016 to 2019. She pre ...
to procure the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017, giving her power to notify the intention to leave the EU.


Rule of law

The
rule of law The rule of law is the political philosophy that all citizens and institutions within a country, state, or community are accountable to the same laws, including lawmakers and leaders. The rule of law is defined in the ''Encyclopedia Britannica ...

rule of law
has been regarded as a fundamental principle of modern legal systems, including the UK. It has been called "as important in a free society as the democratic franchise", and even "the ultimate controlling factor on which our constitution is based". Like parliamentary sovereignty, its meaning and extent is disputed. The most widely accepted meanings speak of several factors: Lord Bingham of Cornhill, formerly the highest judge in England and Wales, suggested the rule of law ought to mean that
law Law is a set of rules that are created and are law enforcement, enforceable by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior,Robertson, ''Crimes against humanity'', 90. with its precise definition a matter of longstanding debate. ...
is clear and predictable, not subject to broad or unreasonable discretion, applies equally to all people, with speedy and fair procedures for enforcement, protects fundamental
human rights Human rights are Morality, moral principles or Social norm, normsJames Nickel, with assistance from Thomas Pogge, M.B.E. Smith, and Leif Wenar, 13 December 2013, Stanford Encyclopedia of PhilosophyHuman Rights Retrieved 14 August 2014 for ce ...
, and works according to
international law International law (also known as public international law and the law of nations) is the set of rules, norms, and standards generally recognized as binding between State (polity), states. It establishes normative guidelines and a common conceptua ...
. T Bingham, "The Rule of Law" (2007), 66(1) ''Cambridge Law Journal'' 67, ; and see also T. Bingham, ''Rule of Law'' (2008) 8, "all persons and authorities within the state, whether public or
private Private or privates may refer to: Music * "In Private "In Private" is a song by British singer Dusty Springfield, released as a single on 20 November 1989. It was Springfield's third single in a row to be a chart success, after an absence of ...
should be bound by and entitled to the benefit of laws publicly made, taking effect (generally) in the future and publicly administered in the courts." Lord Bingham, "The Rule of Law and the Sovereignty of Parliament" (31 October 2007),
King's College, London King's College London (informally King's or KCL) is a public university, public research university located in London, England. King's was established by royal charter in 1829 under the patronage of George IV of the United Kingdom, King G ...
, also remarked, "democracy lies at the heart of the concept of the rule of law".
Other definitions seek to exclude human rights and international law as relevant, but largely stem from visions of pre-democratic scholars such as Albert Venn Dicey. The rule of law was explicitly recognised as a "constitutional principle" in section 1 of the
Constitutional Reform Act 2005 The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (c 4) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom The Parliament of the United Kingdom is the Parliamentary sovereignty in the United Kingdom, supreme Legislature, legislative body of the United Ki ...
, which limited the judicial role of the
Lord Chancellor The lord chancellor, formally the lord high chancellor of Great Britain, is the highest-ranking traditional minister among the Great Officers of State (United Kingdom), Great Officers of State in Scotland and England in the United Kingdom, no ...
and recast the judicial appointments system to entrench independence, diversity and merit. As statute gives no further definition, the practical meaning of the "rule of law" develops through case law. At its core, the rule of law, in English and British law, has traditionally been the principle of "
legality Legality, in respect of an act, agreement, or contract is the state of being consistent with the law or of being lawful or unlawful in a given jurisdiction, and the construct of power. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, legality is 1 : ...
". This means that the state, government, and any person acting under government authority (including a corporation), may only act according to law. In 1765, in '' Entick v Carrington'' a writer, John Entick, claimed that the King's Chief Messenger, Nathan Carrington, had no legal authority to break into and ransack his home, and remove his papers. Carrington claimed he had authority from the Secretary of State,
Lord Halifax Edward Frederick Lindley Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax, (16 April 1881 – 23 December 1959), known as The Lord Irwin from 1925 until 1934 and The Viscount Halifax from 1934 until 1944, was a senior Conservative Party (UK), British Conservat ...
, who issued a search "warrant", but there was no statute that gave Lord Halifax the authority to issue search warrants. Lord Camden CJ held that the "great end, for which men entered into society, was to secure their property", and that without any authority "every invasion of private property, be it ever so minute, is a trespass." Carrington acted unlawfully and had to pay damages. Today this principle of legality is found throughout the
European Convention on Human Rights The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR; formally the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) is an international convention to protect human rights and political freedoms in Europe. Drafted in 1950 by th ...
, which enables infringements of rights as a starting point only if "in accordance with the law". In 1979, in '' Malone v Metropolitan Police Commissioner'' a man charged with
handling stolen goods Possession of stolen goods is a crime in which an individual has bought, been given, or acquired stolen goods. In many jurisdictions, if an individual has accepted possession of goods (or property) and knew they were stolen, then the individua ...
claimed the police unlawfully tapped his phone, to get evidence. The only related statute, the
Post Office Act 1969 The Post Office Act 1969 (c.48) is an act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom The Parliament of the United Kingdom is the Parliamentary sovereignty in the United Kingdom, supreme Legislature, legislative body of the United Kingdom, the ...
Schedule 5, stated there should be no interference in telecommunications unless the Secretary of State issued a warrant, but said nothing explicit about phone tapping. Megarry VC held there was no wrong at common law, and refused to interpret the statute in light of the right to privacy under the
European Convention on Human Rights The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR; formally the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) is an international convention to protect human rights and political freedoms in Europe. Drafted in 1950 by th ...
, article 8. On appeal, the European Court of Human Rights concluded the Convention was breached because the statute did not "indicate with reasonable clarity the scope and manner of exercise of the relevant discretion conferred on the public authorities." The judgment, however, was overshadowed by the government swiftly passing a new Act to authorise phone tapping with a warrant. By itself the principle of legality is not enough to alone preserve
human rights Human rights are Morality, moral principles or Social norm, normsJames Nickel, with assistance from Thomas Pogge, M.B.E. Smith, and Leif Wenar, 13 December 2013, Stanford Encyclopedia of PhilosophyHuman Rights Retrieved 14 August 2014 for ce ...
in the face of ever more intrusive statutory powers of surveillance by corporations or government. The rule of law requires the law is truly enforced, though enforcement bodies may have room for discretion. In ''
R (Corner House Research) v Director of the Serious Fraud Office ''R (Corner House Research) v Director of the Serious Fraud Office'' arms_trade,_The_Corner_House_(organisation).html" ;"title="Arms_industry.html" ;"title="008UKHL 60is a UK constitutional law case, concerning the rule of law. Facts The Corner House (organisation), Corner House Research is a non-governmental organization involve ...
'', a group campaigning against the arms_trade,_The_Corner_House_(organisation)">Corner_House_Research,_claimed_the_Serious_Fraud_Office_(United_Kingdom).html" ;"title="Arms industry">arms trade, The Corner House (organisation)">Corner House Research, claimed the Serious Fraud Office (United Kingdom)">Serious Fraud Office acted unlawfully by dropping an investigation into the UK–Saudi Al-Yamamah arms deal. It was alleged that BAE Systems, BAE Systems plc paid bribes to Saudi government figures. The House of Lords held the SFO was entitled to take into account the public interest in not pursuing an investigation, including the security threats that might transpire. Baroness Hale remarked that the SFO had to consider "the principle that no-one, including powerful British companies who do business for powerful foreign countries, is above the law", but the decision reached was not unreasonable. When enforcement or court proceedings do take place, they should proceed swiftly: anyone who is detained must be charged and put on trial or released. People must also be able to access justice in practice. In '' R (UNISON) v Lord Chancellor'' the Supreme Court held the government's imposition of £1200 in fees to bring an
employment tribunal Employment tribunals are tribunal public bodies in England and Wales and Scotland which have statute, statutory jurisdiction to hear many kinds of disputes between employers and employees. The most common disputes are concerned with unfair dismis ...
claim undermined the
rule of law The rule of law is the political philosophy that all citizens and institutions within a country, state, or community are accountable to the same laws, including lawmakers and leaders. The rule of law is defined in the ''Encyclopedia Britannica ...

rule of law
, and was void. The
Lord Chancellor The lord chancellor, formally the lord high chancellor of Great Britain, is the highest-ranking traditional minister among the Great Officers of State (United Kingdom), Great Officers of State in Scotland and England in the United Kingdom, no ...
had statutory authority to create fees for court services, but in the case of employment tribunals, his Order led to a 70% drop in claims against employers for breach of
labour rights Labor rights or workers' rights are both legal rights and human rights relating to labor relations between workers and employers. These rights are codified in national and international labor and employment law. In general, these rights influen ...
, such as unfair dismissal, unlawful wage deductions or discrimination. Lord Reed said the "constitutional right of access to the courts is inherent in the rule of law". Without access to courts, "laws are liable to become a dead letter, the work done by Parliament may be rendered nugatory, and the democratic election of Members of Parliament may become a meaningless charade." In principle every person is subject to the law, including government ministers, or corporate executives, who may be held in
contempt of court Contempt of court, often referred to simply as "contempt", is the crime of being disobedient to or disrespectful toward a court of law and its officers in the form of behavior that opposes or defies the authority, justice, and dignity of the cour ...
for violating an order. In other systems the idea of a
separation of powers Separation of powers refers to the division of a state (polity), state's government into branches, each with separate, independent power (social and political), powers and responsibilities, so that the powers of one branch are not in conflic ...
is seen as an essential part of maintaining the rule of law. In theory, originally advocated by
Baron de Montesquieu Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu, Lot-et-Garonne, Montesquieu (; ; 18 January 168910 February 1755), generally referred to as simply Montesquieu, was a French judge, intellectual, man of letters, historian, and p ...
, there should be a strict separation of the executive, legislature and judiciary. While other systems, notably the
United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country Continental United States, primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 U.S. state, states, a Washington, D.C., ...
, attempted to put this into practice (e.g. requiring the executive does not come from the legislature), it is clear that modern political parties may undermine such a separation by capturing all three branches of government, and democracy has been maintained since the 20th century despite the fact that "there is no formal separation of powers in the United Kingdom". The
Constitutional Reform Act 2005 The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (c 4) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom The Parliament of the United Kingdom is the Parliamentary sovereignty in the United Kingdom, supreme Legislature, legislative body of the United Ki ...
did, however, end the practice of the
Lord Chancellor The lord chancellor, formally the lord high chancellor of Great Britain, is the highest-ranking traditional minister among the Great Officers of State (United Kingdom), Great Officers of State in Scotland and England in the United Kingdom, no ...
sitting as the head of the judiciary, while also being a Member of Parliament, and sitting in the cabinet. Since the Act of Settlement 1700, there has been only one instance of a judge being removed, and a suspension cannot happen without the
Lord Chief Justice Lord is an appellation for a person or deity who has authority, control, or power (social and political), power over others, acting as a master, chief, or ruler. The appellation can also denote certain persons who hold a title of the Peerage ...
and the
Lord Chancellor The lord chancellor, formally the lord high chancellor of Great Britain, is the highest-ranking traditional minister among the Great Officers of State (United Kingdom), Great Officers of State in Scotland and England in the United Kingdom, no ...
following a judge being subject to criminal proceedings. There is now a duty on all ministers to "uphold the continued independence of the judiciary", including against assault by powerful corporations or the media.


Democracy

The principle of a "democratic society", with a functioning representative and
deliberative democracy Deliberative democracy or discursive democracy is a form of democracy Democracy (From grc, δημοκρατία, dēmokratía, ''dēmos'' 'people' and ''kratos'' 'rule') is a form of government in which people, the people have the author ...
, that upholds
human rights Human rights are Morality, moral principles or Social norm, normsJames Nickel, with assistance from Thomas Pogge, M.B.E. Smith, and Leif Wenar, 13 December 2013, Stanford Encyclopedia of PhilosophyHuman Rights Retrieved 14 August 2014 for ce ...
, legitimises the fact of Parliamentary sovereignty, and it is widely considered that "democracy lies at the heart of the concept of the rule of law". The opposite of arbitrary power exercised by one person is "administration is in the hands of the many and not of the few". According to the preamble to the
European Convention on Human Rights The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR; formally the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) is an international convention to protect human rights and political freedoms in Europe. Drafted in 1950 by th ...
, as drafted by British lawyers following
World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a world war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the World War II by country, vast majority of the world's countries—including all of the great power ...
, fundamental human rights and freedoms are themselves "best maintained ... by "an effective political democracy". Similarly, this "characteristic principle of democracy" is enshrined by the First Protocol, article 3, which requires the "right to free elections" to "ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature". While there are many conceptions of democracy, such as "direct", "representative" or "deliberative", the dominant view in modern political theory is that democracy requires an active citizenry, not only in electing representatives, but in taking part in political life. Its essence lies in not simply majority decision-making, nor referendums that can easily be used as a tool of manipulation, "but in the making of politically responsible decisions" and in "large-scale social changes maximising the freedom" of humankind. The legitimacy of law in a democratic society depends upon a constant process of deliberative discussion and public debate, rather than imposition of decisions. It is also generally agreed that basic standards in political, social and economic rights are necessary to ensure everyone can play a meaningful role in political life. For this reason, the rights to free voting in fair elections and "general welfare in a democratic society" have developed hand-in-hand with all human rights, and form a fundamental cornerstone of
international law International law (also known as public international law and the law of nations) is the set of rules, norms, and standards generally recognized as binding between State (polity), states. It establishes normative guidelines and a common conceptua ...
. In the UK's "modern democratic constitution", the principle of democracy is manifested through statutes and case law which guarantee the right to vote in fair elections, and through its use as a principle of interpretation by courts. In 1703, in the landmark case of '' Ashby v White'', Lord Holt CJ stated that the right of everyone "to give
heir Inheritance is the practice of receiving private property, Title (property), titles, debts, entitlements, Privilege (law), privileges, rights, and Law of obligations, obligations upon the death of an individual. The rules of inheritance differ ...
vote at the election of a person to represent hemin Parliament, there to concur to the making of laws, which are to bind
heir Inheritance is the practice of receiving private property, Title (property), titles, debts, entitlements, Privilege (law), privileges, rights, and Law of obligations, obligations upon the death of an individual. The rules of inheritance differ ...
liberty and property, is a most transcendent thing, and of an high nature". This has meant that the courts actively ensure that votes cast are counted, and that democratic elections are conducted according to law. In '' Morgan v Simpson'' the
Court of Appeal A court of appeals, also called a court of appeal, appellate court, appeal court, court of second instance or second instance court, is any court of law that is empowered to hear an appeal of a trial court or other lower tribunal. In much of t ...
held that if a vote "was conducted so badly that it was not substantially in accordance with the law as" then it would be declared void, and so would even minor irregularities that would affect the result. A considerable body of regulation, for instance in the
Representation of the People Act 1983 The Representation of the People Act 1983 (c. 2) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom The Parliament of the United Kingdom is the Parliamentary sovereignty in the United Kingdom, supreme Legislature, legislative body of the Uni ...
or the
Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (c. 41) is an Act of Parliament, Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom that sets out how political parties, elections and referendums are to be regulated in the United Kingdom. It forme ...
, restrict spending or any foreign interference because, according to Baroness Hale "each person has equal value" and "we do not want our government or its policies to be decided by the highest spenders". More broadly, the concept of a "democratic society" and what is "necessary" for its functioning underpins the entire scheme of interpretation for the
European Convention on Human Rights The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR; formally the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) is an international convention to protect human rights and political freedoms in Europe. Drafted in 1950 by th ...
as applied in British law, particularly after the
Human Rights Act 1998 The Human Rights Act 1998 (c. 42) is an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom which received royal assent on 9 November 1998, and came into force on 2 October 2000. Its aim was to incorporate into UK law the rights contained in the European Con ...
, because each right can usually only be restricted if "in accordance with law" and as "necessary in a democratic society". The place of the social welfare state that is necessary to support democratic life is also manifested through courts' interpretation. For instance, in ''Gorringe v Calderdale MBC'', Lord Steyn, giving the leading judgement, said it was "necessary" to view the law of negligence in the context of "the contours of our social welfare state". More generally, the common law has been increasingly developed to be harmonious with statutory rights, and also in harmony with rights under
international law International law (also known as public international law and the law of nations) is the set of rules, norms, and standards generally recognized as binding between State (polity), states. It establishes normative guidelines and a common conceptua ...
.


Internationalism

Like other democratic countries, the principles of
international law International law (also known as public international law and the law of nations) is the set of rules, norms, and standards generally recognized as binding between State (polity), states. It establishes normative guidelines and a common conceptua ...
are a basic component of the British constitution, both as a primary tool of interpretation of domestic law, and through the UK's consistent support and membership of major international organisations. As far back as
Magna Carta (Medieval Latin for "Great Charter of Freedoms"), commonly called (also ''Magna Charta''; "Great Charter"), is a royal charter of rights agreed to by King John of England at Runnymede, near Windsor, Berkshire, Windsor, on 15 June 1215. ...

Magna Carta
, English law recognised the right to free movement of people for
international trade International trade is the exchange of Capital (economics), capital, goods, and Service (economics), services across international borders or territories because there is a need or want of goods or services. (see: World economy) In most countr ...
. By 1608, Sir
Edward Coke Edward is an English given name A given name (also known as a forename or first name) is the part of a personal name quoted in that identifies a person, potentially with a middle name as well, and differentiates that person from the other ...
wrote confidently that international commercial law, or the , is part of the laws of the realm, while the constitutional crises of the 17th century centred upon Parliament halting the King's attempting to tax international trade without its consent. Similarly in the 18th century, Lord Holt CJ viewed international law as a general tool for interpretation of the common law, while
Lord Mansfield William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, Privy Council of Great Britain, PC, Serjeant-at-law, SL (2 March 170520 March 1793) was a British barrister, politician and judge noted for his reform of English law. Born to Scottish nobility, he was edu ...
in particular did more than any other to affirm that the international "is not the law of a particular country but the law of all nations", and "the law of merchants and the law of the land is the same". In 1774, in ''
Somerset v Stewart ''Somerset v Stewart'' (177298 ER 499(also known as ''Somersett's case'', ''v. XX Sommersett v Steuart and the Mansfield Judgment)'' is a judgment of the English Court of King's Bench (England), Court of King's Bench in 1772, relating to the r ...
'', one of the most important cases in legal history,
Lord Mansfield William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, Privy Council of Great Britain, PC, Serjeant-at-law, SL (2 March 170520 March 1793) was a British barrister, politician and judge noted for his reform of English law. Born to Scottish nobility, he was edu ...
held that
slavery Slavery and enslavement are both the state and the condition of being a slave—someone forbidden to quit one's service for an enslaver, and who is treated by the enslaver as property. Slavery typically involves slaves being made to perf ...
was lawful "in no country" and therefore in common law. In modern case law it has been consistently accepted that it "is a principle of legal policy that ritishlaw should conform to
public international law International law (also known as public international law and the law of nations) is the set of rules, norms, and standards generally recognized as binding between State (polity), states. It establishes normative guidelines and a common conceptua ...
." The
House of Lords The House of Lords, also known as the House of Peers, is the Bicameralism, upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Membership is by Life peer, appointment, Hereditary peer, heredity or Lords Spiritual, official function. Like the ...
stressed that "there is a strong presumption in favour of interpreting English law (whether common law or statute) in a way which does not place the United Kingdom in breach of an international obligation." For example, in '' Hounga v Allen'' the
Supreme Court A supreme court is the highest court A court is any person or institution, often as a government institution, with the authority to Adjudication, adjudicate legal disputes between Party (law), parties and carry out the administration of ju ...
held that a young lady who had been illegally trafficked to the UK had a right to bring a race discrimination claim against her employers, even though she had herself been in violation of the
Immigration Act 1971 The Immigration Act 1971c 77 is an Act of Parliament, Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom concerning immigration and nearly entirely remaking the field of British immigration law. The Act, as with the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962, and ...
. In doing so, the court unanimously drew upon international treaties signed by the UK, known as the
Palermo protocols The Palermo protocols are three protocols that were adopted by the United Nations The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organization whose stated purposes are to maintain international peace and international security, security, ...
, as well as the European Convention on Human Rights, in interpreting the scope of the common law doctrine of illegality, and held it was no bar for the claimant to assert her legal rights. It has been further debated whether the UK should adopt a theory of that sees international law as part of UK without any further act (a "
monist Monism attributes oneness or singleness (Greek: μόνος) to a concept e.g., existence. Various kinds of monism can be distinguished: * Priority monism states that all existing things go back to a source that is distinct from them; e.g., i ...
" theory), or whether it should still be required for international law principles to be translated into domestic law (a "dualist" theory). The current position in
European Union law European Union law is a system of rules operating within the member states of the European Union (EU). Since the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community following World War II, the EU has developed the aim to "promote peace, its value ...
is that while international law binds the EU, it cannot undermine fundamental principles of constitutional law or human rights. Since the World Wars brought an end to the
British Empire The British Empire was composed of the dominions, Crown colony, colonies, protectorates, League of Nations mandate, mandates, and other Dependent territory, territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom and its predecessor states. I ...
and physically destroyed large parts of the country, the UK has consistently supported organisations formed under
international law International law (also known as public international law and the law of nations) is the set of rules, norms, and standards generally recognized as binding between State (polity), states. It establishes normative guidelines and a common conceptua ...
. From the
Treaty of Versailles The Treaty of Versailles (french: Traité de Versailles; german: Versailler Vertrag, ) was the most important of the Peace treaty, peace treaties of World War I. It ended the declaration of war, state of war between Germany and the Allies of ...
in 1919, the UK was a founding member of the
International Labour Organization The International Labour Organization (ILO) is a United Nations agency whose mandate is to advance social and economic justice by setting international labour standards. Founded in October 1919 under the League of Nations, it is the first and ol ...

International Labour Organization
, which sets universal standards for people's rights at work. After the failure of the
League of Nations The League of Nations (french: link=no, Société des Nations ) was the first worldwide Intergovernmental organization, intergovernmental organisation whose principal mission was to maintain world peace. It was founded on 10 January 1920 by ...
and following World War II, the UK became a founding member of the
United Nations The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organization whose stated purposes are to maintain international peace and international security, security, develop friendly relations among nations, achieve international cooperation, and be ...

United Nations
, recognised by Parliament through the United Nations Act 1946, enabling any resolution of the Security Council except the use of force to be implemented by an Order in Council. Due the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is an international document adopted by the United Nations General Assembly The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA or GA; french: link=no, Assemblée générale, AG) is one of the six pr ...
in 1948, the continuation of the
British Empire The British Empire was composed of the dominions, Crown colony, colonies, protectorates, League of Nations mandate, mandates, and other Dependent territory, territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom and its predecessor states. I ...
lost substantial legitimacy under international law, and combined with independence movements this led to its rapid dissolution. Two fundamental treaties, the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is a multilateral treaty that commits nations to respect the civil and political rights of individuals, including the right to life, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom ...
and the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) is a multilateral treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (GA) on 16 December 1966 through GA. Resolution 2200A (XXI), and came in force from 3 January 197 ...
in 1966, saw the UK ratify most rights from the Universal Declaration. Codifying the
Ponsonby Rule The Ponsonby Rule was a constitutional convention in United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a country in Europe, off the north-western coast of t ...
from 1924, the
Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 (c. 25), or CRAG Act, is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom The Parliament of the United Kingdom is the Parliamentary sovereignty in the United Kingdom, supreme Legislature, leg ...
section 20 stipulates that a treaty is ratified once it is laid before Parliament for 21 days and no adverse resolution is passed against it. Regionally, the UK participated in drafting the 1950
European Convention on Human Rights The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR; formally the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) is an international convention to protect human rights and political freedoms in Europe. Drafted in 1950 by th ...
which sought to guarantee basic standards of democracy and human rights to preserve peace in post-war Europe. At the same time, following long-held visions for European integration with the UK "at the centre", democratic European countries sought to integrate their economies both to make war vain, and to advance social progress. In 1972, the UK joined the
European Communities The European Communities (EC) were three international organizations that were governed by the same set of institutions Institutions are humanly devised structures of rules and norms that shape and constrain individual behavior. All defin ...
(reorganized and renamed the
European Union The European Union (EU) is a supranational union, supranational political union, political and economic union of Member state of the European Union, member states that are located primarily in Europe, Europe. The union has a total area of ...

European Union
in 1992) and committed to implement
EU law European Union law is a system of rules operating within the member states of the European Union (EU). Since the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community following World War II, the EU has developed the aim to "promote peace, its value ...
in which it participated, in the European Communities Act 1972. In 1995, the UK also became a founding member of the
World Trade Organization The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an intergovernmental organization Globalization is social change associated with increased connectivity among societies and their elements and the explosive evolution of transportation and telecommunica ...
. To ensure that the European Convention was directly applied by the courts, the
Human Rights Act 1998 The Human Rights Act 1998 (c. 42) is an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom which received royal assent on 9 November 1998, and came into force on 2 October 2000. Its aim was to incorporate into UK law the rights contained in the European Con ...
was passed. Parliament also passed the International Criminal Court Act 2001 to enable prosecution of war criminals, and subjected itself to the jurisdiction of the
International Criminal Court The International Criminal Court (ICC or ICCt) is an intergovernmental organization and International court, international tribunal seated in The Hague, Netherlands. It is the first and only permanent international court with jurisdiction to pro ...
. In 2016 the UK voted in a
referendum A referendum (plural: referendums or less commonly referenda) is a Direct democracy, direct vote by the Constituency, electorate on a proposal, law, or political issue. This is in contrast to an issue being voted on by a Representative democr ...
on whether to leave the
European Union The European Union (EU) is a supranational union, supranational political union, political and economic union of Member state of the European Union, member states that are located primarily in Europe, Europe. The union has a total area of ...

European Union
, resulting—with a 72.2% turnout—in a margin of 51.9% favouring "leave" and 48.1% favouring "remain". Some allegations were made of misconduct taking place in the campaigns in support of both referendum options, whilst authorities found nothing considered serious enough to affect results and little to chastise.


Institutions

While principles may be the basis of the UK constitution, the institutions of the state perform its functions in practice. First,
Parliament In modern politics, and history, a parliament is a legislative body of government. Generally, a modern parliament has three functions: Representation (politics), representing the Election#Suffrage, electorate, making laws, and overseeing ...
is the sovereign entity. Its two chambers legislate. In the
House of Commons The House of Commons is the name for the elected lower house of the bicameral parliaments of the United Kingdom and Canada. In both of these countries, the Commons holds much more legislative power than the nominally upper house of parliament. T ...
each
Member of Parliament A member of parliament (MP) is the representative in parliament of the people who live in their electoral district. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, this term refers only to members of the lower house since upper house members o ...
is elected by a simple plurality in a democratic vote, although outcomes do not always accurately match people's preferences overall. Elections must be held within five years after the previous election of a Parliament, though historically they have tended to occur each four years. Election spending is tightly controlled, foreign interference is prohibited, and donations and lobbying are limited in whatever form. The
House of Lords The House of Lords, also known as the House of Peers, is the Bicameralism, upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Membership is by Life peer, appointment, Hereditary peer, heredity or Lords Spiritual, official function. Like the ...
reviews and votes upon legislative proposals by the Commons. It can delay legislation by one year, and cannot delay at all if the proposed Act concerns money. Most Lords are appointed by the Prime Minister, through the King, on the advice of a Commission which, by convention, offers some balance between political parties. Ninety-two hereditary peers remain. To become law, each
Act of Parliament Acts of Parliament, sometimes referred to as primary legislation, are texts of law passed by the legislative body of a jurisdiction (often a parliament or council). In most countries with a parliamentary system of government, acts of parliame ...
must be read by both houses three times, and given
royal assent Royal assent is the method by which a monarch formally approves an act of the legislature, either directly or through an official acting on the monarch's behalf. In some jurisdictions, royal assent is equivalent to promulgation, while in other ...
by the monarch. The Sovereign does not veto legislation, by convention, since
1708 In the Swedish calendar it was a leap year starting on Wednesday, one day ahead of the Julian and ten days behind the Gregorian calendar. Events January–June * January 1 – Charles XII of Sweden invades Russia, by crossing th ...
. Second, the judiciary interprets the law. It can not strike down an Act of Parliament, but the judiciary ensures that any law which may violate fundamental rights has to be clearly expressed, to force politicians to openly confront what they are doing and "accept the political cost". Under the
Constitutional Reform Act 2005 The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (c 4) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom The Parliament of the United Kingdom is the Parliamentary sovereignty in the United Kingdom, supreme Legislature, legislative body of the United Ki ...
, the judiciary is appointed by the Judicial Appointments Commission with cross-party and judicial recommendations, to protect judicial independence. Third, the executive branch of government is led by the
prime minister A prime minister, premier or chief of cabinet is the head of the Cabinet (government), cabinet and the leader of the Minister (government), ministers in the Executive (government), executive branch of government, often in a parliamentary syst ...
who must be able to command a majority in the House of Commons. The Cabinet of Ministers is appointed by the Prime Minister to lead the main departments of state, such as the
Treasury A treasury is either *A government department related to finance and taxation, a Finance minister, finance ministry. *A place or location where treasure, such as currency or precious items are kept. These can be State ownership, state or roya ...
, the
Foreign Office Foreign may refer to: Government * Foreign policy A State (polity), state's foreign policy or external policy (as opposed to internal or domestic policy) is its objectives and activities in relation to its interactions with other states, unio ...
, the
Department of Health A health department or health ministry is a part of government which focuses on issues related to the general health of the citizenry. Subnational entity, Subnational entities, such as State (administrative division), states, county, counties an ...
and the
Department for Education The Department for Education (DfE) is a Departments of the Government of the United Kingdom, department of Government of the United Kingdom, His Majesty's Government responsible for child protection, child services, Education in England, educa ...
. Officially the "
head of state A head of state (or chief of state) is the public persona who officially embodies a state (polity), state#Foakes, Foakes, pp. 110–11 "
he head of state He or HE may refer to: Language * He (pronoun), an English pronoun * He (kana), the romanization of the Japanese kana へ * He (letter) He is the fifth Letter (alphabet), letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician alphabet, Phoenic ...
being an embodiment of the State itself or representatitve of its international p ...
" is the monarch, but all prerogative power is exercised by the Prime Minister, subject to
judicial review Judicial review is a process under which executive, legislative and administrative actions are subject to review by the judiciary The judiciary (also known as the judicial system, judicature, judicial branch, judiciative branch, and cou ...
. Fourth, as the UK matured as a modern democracy, an extensive system of civil servants, and
public service A public service is any service intended to address specific needs pertaining to the aggregate members of a community. Public services are available to people within a government A government is the system or group of people gover ...
institutions developed to deliver UK residents economic, social and legal rights. All public bodies, and private bodies that perform public functions, are bound by the
rule of law The rule of law is the political philosophy that all citizens and institutions within a country, state, or community are accountable to the same laws, including lawmakers and leaders. The rule of law is defined in the ''Encyclopedia Britannica ...

rule of law
.


Parliament

In the British constitution,
Parliament In modern politics, and history, a parliament is a legislative body of government. Generally, a modern parliament has three functions: Representation (politics), representing the Election#Suffrage, electorate, making laws, and overseeing ...
sits at the apex of power. It emerged through a series of revolutions as the dominant body, over the
church Church may refer to: Religion * Church (building), a building for Christian religious activities * Church (congregation), a local congregation of a Christian denomination * Church service, a formalized period of Christian communal worship * Chris ...
,
courts A court is any person or institution, often as a government institution, with the authority to Adjudication, adjudicate legal disputes between Party (law), parties and carry out the administration of justice in Civil law (common law), civil, C ...
, and the
monarch A monarch is a head of stateWebster's II New College DictionarMonarch Houghton Mifflin. Boston. 2001. p. 707. Life tenure, for life or until abdication, and therefore the head of state of a monarchy. A monarch may exercise the highest authority ...
, and within Parliament the
House of Commons The House of Commons is the name for the elected lower house of the bicameral parliaments of the United Kingdom and Canada. In both of these countries, the Commons holds much more legislative power than the nominally upper house of parliament. T ...
emerged as the dominant chamber, over the
House of Lords The House of Lords, also known as the House of Peers, is the Bicameralism, upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Membership is by Life peer, appointment, Hereditary peer, heredity or Lords Spiritual, official function. Like the ...
that traditionally represented the
aristocracy Aristocracy (, ) is a form of government that places strength in the hands of a small, privileged ruling class, the aristocracy (class), aristocrats. The term derives from the el, αριστοκρατία (), meaning 'rule of the best'. At t ...
. The central justification for
Parliamentary sovereignty Parliamentary sovereignty, also called parliamentary supremacy or legislative supremacy, is a concept in the constitutional law of some parliamentary democracies. It holds that the legislative body has absolute sovereignty and is supreme over all ...
is usually thought to be its democratic nature, although it was only upon the
Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928 The Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928 was an Act of Parliament, Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. This act expanded on the Representation of the People Act 1918 which had given some women the vote in Parliamentary ...
that Parliament could be said to have finally become "democratic" in any modern sense (as property qualifications to vote were abolished for everyone over 21), and not until after the
Second World War World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a world war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the World War II by country, vast majority of the world's countries—including all of the great power ...
that decolonisation, university constituencies and lowering of the voting age took place. Parliament's main functions are to legislate, to allocate money for public spending, and to scrutinise the government. In practice many MPs are involved in Parliamentary committees which investigate spending, policies, laws and their impact, and often report to recommend reform. For instance, the Modernisation Committee of the House of Commons in 2002 recommended publishing draft bills before they became law, and was later found to have been highly successful. There are 650
Members of Parliament A member of parliament (MP) is the representative in parliament of the people who live in their electoral district. In many countries with Bicameralism, bicameral parliaments, this term refers only to members of the lower house since upper house ...
(MPs) in the House of Commons, currently elected for terms of up to five years, and 790 peers in the
House of Lords The House of Lords, also known as the House of Peers, is the Bicameralism, upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Membership is by Life peer, appointment, Hereditary peer, heredity or Lords Spiritual, official function. Like the ...
. For a proposed Bill to become an Act, and law, it must be read three times in each chamber, and given
royal assent Royal assent is the method by which a monarch formally approves an act of the legislature, either directly or through an official acting on the monarch's behalf. In some jurisdictions, royal assent is equivalent to promulgation, while in other ...
by the monarch. Today, the
House of Commons The House of Commons is the name for the elected lower house of the bicameral parliaments of the United Kingdom and Canada. In both of these countries, the Commons holds much more legislative power than the nominally upper house of parliament. T ...
is the primary organ of representative government. Section 1 of the
Representation of the People Act 1983 The Representation of the People Act 1983 (c. 2) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom The Parliament of the United Kingdom is the Parliamentary sovereignty in the United Kingdom, supreme Legislature, legislative body of the Uni ...
gives the right to all registered citizens of the United Kingdom, the
Republic of Ireland Ireland ( ga, Éire ), also known as the Republic of Ireland (), is a country in north-western Europe consisting of 26 of the 32 Counties of Ireland, counties of the island of Ireland. The capital and largest city is Dublin, on the eastern ...
and the
Commonwealth A commonwealth is a traditional English term for a political community founded for the common good In philosophy, economics, and political science, the common good (also commonwealth, general welfare, or public benefit) is either what is share ...
aged 18 and over to elect Members of Parliament to the House of Commons. Sections 3 and 4 exclude people who are convicted of an offence and in a penal institution, or detained under mental health laws. These restrictions fall below European standards, which require that people who are convicted of very minor crimes (such as petty theft or drug offences) have the right to vote. Since 2013, everyone has to register individually to vote, instead of households being able to register collectively, but an annual household canvass is conducted to increase the number of registered people. As far back as 1703, '' Ashby v White'' recognised the right to "vote at the election of a person to represent him or erin Parliament, there to concur to the making of laws, which are to bind his liberty and property" as "a most transcendent thing, and of an high nature". This originally meant that any interference in that right would lead to damages. If the denial of voting would have changed the result, or if a vote was "conducted so badly that it was not substantially in accordance with the law" the vote would have to be run again. So, in '' Morgan v Simpson'' the Court of Appeal declared that an election for a
Greater London Council The Greater London Council (GLC) was the top-tier local government administrative body for Greater London from 1965 to 1986. It replaced the earlier London County Council (LCC) which had covered a much smaller area. The GLC was dissolved in 198 ...
seat was not valid after it was found that 44 unstamped ballot papers were not counted. These common law principles predate statutory regulation, and therefore appear to apply to any vote, including elections and referendums. Election spending is tightly controlled today by statute. A maximum of £20 million can be spent by political parties in national campaigns, plus £10,000 in each constituency. Political advertisements on television are prohibited except for those in certain free time slots, although the internet remains largely unregulated. Any spending over £500 by third parties must be disclosed. While these rules are strict, they were held in '' Animal Defenders International v UK'' to be compatible with the Convention because "each person has equal value" and "we do not want our government or its policies to be decided by the highest spenders." Foreign interference in voting is completely prohibited, including any "broadcasting" (also over the internet) "with intent to influence persons to give or refrain from giving their votes". Donations by foreign parties can be forfeited in their entirety to the
Electoral Commission An election commission is a body charged with overseeing the implementation of electioneering process of any country. The formal names of election commissions vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and may be styled an electoral commission, a c ...
. Domestic donations are limited to registered parties, and must be reported, when they are over £7,500 nationally or £1,500 locally, to the
Electoral Commission An election commission is a body charged with overseeing the implementation of electioneering process of any country. The formal names of election commissions vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and may be styled an electoral commission, a c ...
. The system for electing the Commons is based on constituencies, whose boundaries are periodically reviewed to even out populations. There has been considerable debate about the
first-past-the-post In a first-past-the-post electoral system (FPTP or FPP), formally called single-member plurality voting (SMP) when used in single-member districts or informally choose-one voting in contrast to ranked voting, or score voting, voters cast their ...
system of voting the UK uses, as it tends to exclude minority parties. By contrast, in
Australia Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands. With an area of , Australia is the largest country by ...
voters may select preferences for candidates, although this system was rejected in a
2011 United Kingdom Alternative Vote referendum The United Kingdom Alternative Vote referendum, also known as the UK-wide referendum on the Parliamentary voting system was held on Thursday 5 May 2011 (the same date as local elections in many areas) in the United Kingdom The United K ...
staged by the Cameron-Clegg coalition. In the
European Parliament The European Parliament (EP) is one of the Legislature, legislative bodies of the European Union and one of its seven Institutions of the European Union, institutions. Together with the Council of the European Union (known as the Council and in ...
, voters choose a party from multi-member regional constituencies: this tends to give smaller parties much greater representation. In the
Scottish Parliament The Scottish Parliament ( gd, Pàrlamaid na h-Alba ; sco, Scots Pairlament) is the devolution in the United Kingdom, devolved, unicameralism, unicameral legislature of Scotland. Located in the Holyrood, Edinburgh, Holyrood area of the capital ...
, the
Welsh Parliament The Senedd (; ), officially known as the Welsh Parliament in English and () in Welsh, is the devolved, unicameral Unicameralism (from ''uni''- "one" + Latin ''camera'' "chamber") is a type of legislature, which consists of one house or a ...
and
London Assembly The London Assembly is a 25-member elected body, part of the Greater London Authority, that scrutinises the activities of the Mayor of London and has the power, with a two-thirds super-majority, to amend the Mayor's annual budget and to rejec ...
, voters have the choice of both constituencies and a party list, which tends to reflect overall preferences best. To be elected as an MP, most people generally become members of
political parties A political party is an organization that coordinates candidates to compete in a particular country's elections. It is common for the members of a party to hold similar ideas about politics, and parties may promote specific political ideology ...
, and must be over 18 on the day of nomination to run for a seat, be a qualifying Commonwealth or Irish citizen, not be bankrupt, found guilty of corrupt practices, or be a Lord, judge or employee of the civil service. To limit the government's practical control over Parliament, the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975 restricts higher payment of salaries to a set number of MPs. Along with a hereditary monarch, the
House of Lords The House of Lords, also known as the House of Peers, is the Bicameralism, upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Membership is by Life peer, appointment, Hereditary peer, heredity or Lords Spiritual, official function. Like the ...
remains an historical curiosity in the British constitution. Traditionally it represented the landed aristocracy, and political allies of the monarch or the government, and has only gradually and incompletely been reformed. Today, the
House of Lords Act 1999 The House of Lords Act 1999 (c. 34) is an Act of Parliament, Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that Lords Reform, reformed the House of Lords, one of the chambers of Parliament. The Act was given Royal Assent on 11 November 1999. For ...
has abolished all but 92 hereditary peers, leaving most peers to be "life peers" appointed by the government under the
Life Peerages Act 1958 The Life Peerages Act 1958 established the modern standards for the creation of life peers by the British monarchy, Sovereign of the United Kingdom. Background This Act was made during the Conservative Government 1957–1964, Conservative governm ...
, law lords appointed under the
Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876 The Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876 (39 & 40 Vict., 39 & 40 Vict c 59) was an Act of Parliament, Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that altered the judicial functions of the House of Lords by allowing senior judges to sit in the House ...
, and
Lords Spiritual The Lords Spiritual are the bishop A bishop is an ordained clergy member who is entrusted with a position of Episcopal polity, authority and oversight in a religious institution. In Christianity, bishops are normally responsible for the g ...
who are senior clergy of the
Church of England The Church of England (C of E) is the State religion, established List of Christian denominations, Christian church in England and the mother church of the international Anglican Communion. It traces its history to the Christian church record ...
. Since 2005, senior judges can only sit and vote in the House of Lords after retirement. The government carries out appointment of most peers, but since 2000 has taken advice from a seven-person House of Lords Appointments Commission with representatives from the Labour, Conservatives and Liberal-Democrat parties. A peerage can always be disclaimed, and ex-peers may then run for Parliament. Since 2015, a peer may be suspended or expelled by the House. In practice the
Parliament Act 1949 The Parliament Act 1949 (12, 13 & 14 Geo. 6 c. 103) is an Acts of Parliament in the United Kingdom, Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It reduced the power of the House of Lords to delay certain types of legislation – specifical ...
greatly reduced the House of Lords' power, as it can only delay and cannot block legislation by one year, and cannot delay money bills at all. Several options for reform have been debated. A House of Lords Reform Bill 2012 proposed to have 360 directly elected members, 90 appointed members, 12 bishops and an uncertain number of ministerial members. The elected Lords would have been elected by proportional representation for 15-year terms, through 10 regional constituencies on a
single transferable vote Single transferable vote (STV) is a multi-winner electoral system in which voters cast a single vote in the form of a ranked-choice ballot. Voters have the option to rank candidates, and their vote may be transferred according to alternate ...
system. However, the government withdrew support after backlash from Conservative backbenches. It has often been argued that if the Lords were elected by geographic constituencies and a party controlled both sides "there would be little prospect of effective scrutiny or revision of government business." A second option, like in Swedish
Riksdag The Riksdag (, ; also sv, riksdagen or ''Sveriges riksdag'' ) is the legislature and the Parliamentary sovereignty, supreme decision-making body of Sweden. Since 1971, the Riksdag has been a unicameral legislature with List of members of th ...
, could simply be to abolish the House of Lords: this was in fact done during the
English Civil War The English Civil War (1642–1651) was a series of civil wars and political machinations between Parliamentarians ("Roundheads") and Royalists led by Charles I ("Cavaliers"), mainly over the manner of Kingdom of England, England's governanc ...
in 1649, but restored along with the monarchy in
1660 Events January–March * January 1 January 1 or 1 January is the first day of the year in the Gregorian Calendar. There are 364 days remaining until the end of the year (365 in leap years). This day is also known as New Year' ...
. A third proposed option is to elect peers by work and professional groups, so that health care workers elect peers with special health knowledge, people in education elect a fixed number of education experts, legal professionals elect legal representatives, and so on. This is argued to be necessary to improve the quality of legislation.


Judiciary

The judiciary in the United Kingdom has the essential functions of upholding the
rule of law The rule of law is the political philosophy that all citizens and institutions within a country, state, or community are accountable to the same laws, including lawmakers and leaders. The rule of law is defined in the ''Encyclopedia Britannica ...

rule of law
, democracy, and human rights. The highest court of appeal, renamed from the
House of Lords The House of Lords, also known as the House of Peers, is the Bicameralism, upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Membership is by Life peer, appointment, Hereditary peer, heredity or Lords Spiritual, official function. Like the ...
officially from 2005, is the Supreme Court. The Lord Chancellor's role changed dramatically on 3 April 2006, as a result of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. Due to the Constitutional Reform Act of 2005, the make up of the Judiciary is clearly demonstrated for the first time inside the Constitution. This form of enshrined law presents a new branch of government. An independent Supreme Court has been established, separate from the House of Lords and with its own independent appointments system, staff, budget and building. Further aspects of this explores how independent the Judiciary has become. An Appointments Commission, responsible for selecting candidates to recommend for judicial appointment to the Secretary of State for Justice was established. The Judicial Appointments Commission ensures that merit remains the sole criterion for appointment and the appointments system is modern, open and transparent. In terms of scrutiny, A Judicial Appointment and Conduct Ombudsman, responsible for investigating and making recommendations concerning complaints about the judicial appointments process, and the handling of judicial conduct complaints within the scope of the Constitutional Reform Act, provides checks and balances to the Supreme Court. The Judiciary hears appeals from the whole UK in civil law matters, and for criminal law in England and Wales, and Northern Ireland. It cannot hear criminal appeals from Scotland, as that was precluded by the 1707 Treaty of Union, and it is outside the formal competence of the British Parliament to alter that position. The Supreme Court does however consider "devolution issues" where these may affect Scottish criminal law. Since the 1966 Practice Statement, the judiciary has acknowledged that while a system of precedent, that binds lower courts, is necessary to provide "at least some degree of certainty", the courts should update their jurisprudence and "depart from a previous decision when it appears right to do so." Litigation usually begins in a
County Court A county court is a court based in or with a jurisdiction covering one or more county, counties, which are administrative divisions (subnational entities) within a country, not to be confused with the medieval system of ''county courts'' held by t ...
or the High Court for civil law issues, or a
magistrates' court A magistrates' court is a lower court where, in several Jurisdiction (area), jurisdictions, all criminal proceedings start. Also some civil matters may be dealt with here, such as family proceedings. Courts * Magistrates' court (England and Wales) ...
or the
Crown Court The Crown Court is the court of first instance of England and Wales responsible for hearing all Indictable offence, indictable offences, some Hybrid offence, either way offences and appeals lied to it by the Magistrates' court, magistrates' court ...
for
criminal law Criminal law is the body of law that relates to crime. It prescribes conduct perceived as threatening, harmful, or otherwise endangering to the property, health, safety, and welfare, moral welfare of people inclusive of one's self. Most crimin ...
issues. There are also
employment tribunal Employment tribunals are tribunal public bodies in England and Wales and Scotland which have statute, statutory jurisdiction to hear many kinds of disputes between employers and employees. The most common disputes are concerned with unfair dismis ...
s for
labour law Labour laws (also known as labor laws or employment laws) are those that mediate the relationship between workers, employing entities, trade unions, and the government. Collective labour law relates to the tripartite relationship between employee, ...
disputes, and the
First-tier Tribunal The First-tier Tribunal is part of the courts and tribunals service of the United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a country in Europe, off the north- ...
for public or regulatory disputes, ranging from immigration, to social security, to tax. After the High Court, Crown Court, or appeal tribunals, cases generally may appeal to the
Court of Appeal A court of appeals, also called a court of appeal, appellate court, appeal court, court of second instance or second instance court, is any court of law that is empowered to hear an appeal of a trial court or other lower tribunal. In much of t ...
in England and Wales. In Scotland, the
Court of Session The Court of Session is the supreme civil court of Scotland and constitutes part of the College of Justice; the supreme criminal court of Scotland is the High Court of Justiciary. The Court of Session sits in Parliament House in Edinbur ...
has an Outer (first instance) and Inner (appeal) House. Appeals then go to the Supreme Court, although at any time a court may make a " preliminary reference" to the
Court of Justice of the European Union The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) (french: Cour de justice de l'Union européenne or "''CJUE''"; Latin: Curia) is the Judiciary, judicial branch of the European Union (EU). Seated in the Kirchberg, Luxembourg, Kirchberg quart ...
to clarify the meaning of
EU law European Union law is a system of rules operating within the member states of the European Union (EU). Since the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community following World War II, the EU has developed the aim to "promote peace, its value ...
. Since the
Human Rights Act 1998 The Human Rights Act 1998 (c. 42) is an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom which received royal assent on 9 November 1998, and came into force on 2 October 2000. Its aim was to incorporate into UK law the rights contained in the European Con ...
, courts have been expressly required to interpret law to be compatible with the
European Convention on Human Rights The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR; formally the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) is an international convention to protect human rights and political freedoms in Europe. Drafted in 1950 by th ...
. This follows a longer tradition of courts interpreting the law to be compatible with
international law International law (also known as public international law and the law of nations) is the set of rules, norms, and standards generally recognized as binding between State (polity), states. It establishes normative guidelines and a common conceptua ...
obligations. It is generally accepted that the British courts do not merely apply but also create new law through their interpretative function: this is obvious in the
common law In law, common law (also known as judicial precedent, judge-made law, or case law) is the body of law created by judges and similar quasi-judicial tribunals by virtue of being stated in written opinions."The common law is not a brooding omnipres ...
and equity, where there is no codified statutory basis for large parts of the law, such as
contracts A contract is a legally enforceable agreement between two or more Party (law), parties that creates, defines, and governs mutual rights and obligations between them. A contract typically involves the transfer of goods, Service (economics), ser ...
,
torts A tort is a civil wrong that causes a claimant to suffer loss or harm, resulting in legal liability for the person who commits the tortious act. Tort law can be contrasted with criminal law, which deals with crime, criminal wrongs that are punis ...
or trusts. This also means an element of retroactivity, since an application of developing rules may differ from at least one party's understanding of the law in any conflict. Although formally the British judiciary may not declare an Act of Parliament "unconstitutional", in practice the judiciary's power to interpret the law so as to be compatible with human rights can render a statute inoperative, much like in other countries. The courts do so sparingly because they recognise the importance of the democratic process. Judges may also sit from time to time on public inquiries. The independence of the judiciary is one of the cornerstones of the constitution, and means in practice that judges cannot be dismissed from office. Since the Act of Settlement 1700, no judge has been removed, as to do so the King must act on address by both Houses of Parliament. It is very likely that a judge would never be dismissed, not merely because of formal rules but a "shared constitutional understanding" of the importance of the integrity of the legal system. This is reflected, for example, in the ''
sub judice In law, ''sub judice'', Latin for "under a judge", means that a particular case or matter is under trial (law), trial or being considered by a judge or court. The term may be used synonymously with "the present case" or "the case at bar" by som ...
'' rule that matters awaiting decision in court should not be prejudged in a Parliamentary debate. The
Lord Chancellor The lord chancellor, formally the lord high chancellor of Great Britain, is the highest-ranking traditional minister among the Great Officers of State (United Kingdom), Great Officers of State in Scotland and England in the United Kingdom, no ...
, once head of the judiciary but now simply a government minister, also has a statutory duty to uphold the independence of the judiciary, for instance, against attacks upon their integrity by media, corporations, or the government itself. Members of the judiciary can be appointed from among any member of the legal profession who has over 10 years of experience having rights of audience before a court: this usually includes barristers, but can also mean solicitors or academics. Appointments should be made "solely on merit" but regard may be had to the need for diversity when two candidates have equal qualifications. For appointments to the Supreme Court, a five-member Judicial Appointments Committee is formed including one Supreme Court judge, three members from the Judicial Appointments Commission, and one lay person. For other senior judges such as those on the Court of Appeal, or for the Lord Chief Justice, Master of the Rolls, or the heads of the High Court divisions, a similar five member panel with two judges is formed. Gender and ethnic diversity is lacking in the British judiciary compared to other developed countries, and potentially compromises the expertise and administration of justice. Backing up the judiciary is a considerable body of administrative law. The
Contempt of Court Act 1981 The Contempt of Court Act 1981 is an Act of the Parliament In modern politics, and history, a parliament is a legislative body of government. Generally, a modern parliament has three functions: Representation (politics), representing ...
enables a court to hold anyone in contempt, and commit the person to imprisonment, for violating a court order, or behaviour that could compromise a fair judicial process. In practice this is enforced by the executive. The
Lord Chancellor The lord chancellor, formally the lord high chancellor of Great Britain, is the highest-ranking traditional minister among the Great Officers of State (United Kingdom), Great Officers of State in Scotland and England in the United Kingdom, no ...
heads the
Ministry of Justice A Ministry of Justice is a common type of government department that serves as a justice ministry. Lists of current ministries of justice Named "Ministry" * Ministry of Justice (Abkhazia) * Ministry of Justice (Afghanistan) * Ministry of Justic ...
, which performs various functions including administering the Legal Aid Agency for people who cannot afford access to the courts. In '' R (UNISON) v Lord Chancellor'' the government suffered scathing criticism for creating high fees that cut the number of applicants to employment tribunals by 70 per cent. The Attorney General of England and Wales, and in Scottish matters, the Advocate General for Scotland, and the
Solicitor General for England and Wales His Majesty's Solicitor General for England and Wales, known informally as the Solicitor General, is one of the law officers of the Crown in the government of the United Kingdom ga, Rialtas a Shoilse gd, Riaghaltas a Mhòrachd , image ...
represent the Crown in litigation. The Attorney General also appoints the
Director of Public Prosecutions The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is the office or official charged with the prosecution of Crime, criminal offences in several criminal jurisdictions around the world. The title is used mainly in jurisdictions that are or have been mem ...
who heads the
Crown Prosecution Service The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is the principal public agency for conducting criminal prosecution A prosecutor is a legal representative of the prosecution in states with either the common law adversarial system or the Civil law (le ...
, which reviews cases submitted by the police for prosecution, and conducts them on behalf of the Crown.


Executive

The executive branch, while subservient to Parliament and judicial oversight, exercises day to day power of the British government. The UK remains a
constitutional monarchy A constitutional monarchy, parliamentary monarchy, or democratic monarchy is a form of monarchy in which the monarch exercises their authority in accordance with a constitution and is not alone in decision making. Constitutional monarchies dif ...
. The formal
head of state A head of state (or chief of state) is the public persona who officially embodies a state (polity), state#Foakes, Foakes, pp. 110–11 "
he head of state He or HE may refer to: Language * He (pronoun), an English pronoun * He (kana), the romanization of the Japanese kana へ * He (letter) He is the fifth Letter (alphabet), letter of the Semitic abjads, including Phoenician alphabet, Phoenic ...
being an embodiment of the State itself or representatitve of its international p ...
is His Majesty
King King is the title given to a male monarch in a variety of contexts. The female equivalent is queen regnant, queen, which title is also given to the queen consort, consort of a king. *In the context of prehistory, antiquity and contempora ...
Charles III Charles III (Charles Philip Arthur George; born 14 November 1948) is King of the United Kingdom and the 14 other Commonwealth realms. He was the longest-serving heir apparent and Prince of Wales and, at age 73, became the oldest person to a ...
, a
hereditary Heredity, also called inheritance or biological inheritance, is the passing on of traits from parents to their offspring; either through asexual reproduction Asexual reproduction is a type of reproduction that does not involve the fusion ...
monarch since 2022. No Queen or King has withheld assent to any bill passed by Parliament since 1708, and all constitutional duties and power are accepted by binding convention to have shifted to the
prime minister A prime minister, premier or chief of cabinet is the head of the Cabinet (government), cabinet and the leader of the Minister (government), ministers in the Executive (government), executive branch of government, often in a parliamentary syst ...
, Parliament or the courts. Over the 17th century, the
Petition of Right The Petition of Right, passed on 7 June 1628, is an English constitutional document setting out specific individual protections against the state, reportedly of equal value to Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights 1689. It was part of a wider c ...
was asserted by Parliament to prevent any taxation by the monarch without Parliament's consent, and the Habeas Corpus Act 1640 denied the monarch any power to arrest people for failing to pay taxes. The monarch's continued assertion of the divine right to rule led to
Charles I Charles I may refer to: Kings and emperors * Charlemagne (742–814), numbered Charles I in the lists of Holy Roman Emperors and French kings * Charles I of Anjou (1226–1285), also king of Albania, Jerusalem, Naples and Sicily * Charles I of ...
being executed in the
English Civil War The English Civil War (1642–1651) was a series of civil wars and political machinations between Parliamentarians ("Roundheads") and Royalists led by Charles I ("Cavaliers"), mainly over the manner of Kingdom of England, England's governanc ...
, and finally the settlement of power in the Bill of Rights of 1689. Following the
Act of Union 1707 The Acts of Union ( gd, Achd an Aonaidh) were two Act of Parliament, Acts of Parliament: the Union with Scotland Act 1706 passed by the Parliament of England, and the Union with England Act 1707 passed by the Parliament of Scotland. They put ...
and an early financial crisis as
South Sea Company The South Sea Company (officially The Governor and Company of the merchants of Great Britain, trading to the South Seas and other parts of America, and for the encouragement of the Fishery) was a British joint-stock company founded in Ja ...
shares crashed,
Robert Walpole Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford, (26 August 1676 – 18 March 1745; known between 1725 and 1742 as Sir Robert Walpole) was a Kingdom of Great Britain, British statesman and Whigs (British political party), Whig politician who, as First Lor ...
emerged as a dominant political figure. Leading the House of Commons from 1721 to 1742, Walpole is generally acknowledged to be the first
prime minister A prime minister, premier or chief of cabinet is the head of the Cabinet (government), cabinet and the leader of the Minister (government), ministers in the Executive (government), executive branch of government, often in a parliamentary syst ...
(''
Primus inter pares ''Primus inter pares'' is a Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium ...
''). The PM's modern functions include leading the dominant political party, setting policy priorities, creating Ministries and appointing ministers, judges, peers, and civil servants. The PM also has considerable control through the convention of
collective responsibility Collective responsibility, also known as collective guilt, refers to Social responsibility, responsibilities of organizations, groups and societies. Collective responsibility in the form of collective punishment is often used as a disciplinary m ...
(that ministers must publicly support the government even when they privately disagree, or resign), and control over the government's communications to the public. By contrast in law, as is necessary in a democratic society, the monarch is a figurehead with no political power, but a series of ceremonial duties, and considerable funding. Aside from private wealth and finance, the monarchy is funded under the
Sovereign Grant Act 2011 The Sovereign Grant Act 2011 (c. 15) is the Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom The Parliament of the United Kingdom is the Parliamentary sovereignty in the United Kingdom, supreme Legislature, legislative body of the United Kingdo ...
, which reserves 25 per cent of the net revenue from the
Crown Estate The Crown Estate is a collection of lands and holdings in the United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a country in Europe, off the north-western c ...
. The
Crown Estate The Crown Estate is a collection of lands and holdings in the United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a country in Europe, off the north-western c ...
is a public, government corporation, which in 2015 held £12 billion in investments, mostly land and property, and therefore generates income by charging rent to businesses or people for homes. The monarch's major ceremonial duties are to appoint the
prime minister A prime minister, premier or chief of cabinet is the head of the Cabinet (government), cabinet and the leader of the Minister (government), ministers in the Executive (government), executive branch of government, often in a parliamentary syst ...
who can command the majority of the
House of Commons The House of Commons is the name for the elected lower house of the bicameral parliaments of the United Kingdom and Canada. In both of these countries, the Commons holds much more legislative power than the nominally upper house of parliament. T ...
, to give royal assent to Acts of Parliament, and to dissolve Parliament upon the calling of an election. Minor ceremonial duties include giving an audience to the Prime Minister, as well as visiting ministers or diplomats from the Commonwealth, and acting on state occasions, such as delivering the " King's speech" (written by the government, outlining its political platform) at the opening of Parliament. Public support for the monarchy remains high, with only 21% of the population preferring a republic instead. However, on the other hand, it has been argued that the UK should abolish the monarchy, on the ground that hereditary inheritance of political office has no place in a modern democracy. A referendum was held in Australia, in 1999 on becoming a Republic, but failed to get a majority. Although called the
royal prerogative The royal prerogative is a body of customary authority, privilege and immunity, recognized in common law and, sometimes, in Civil law (legal system), civil law jurisdictions possessing a monarchy, as belonging to the monarch, sovereign and whic ...
, a series of important powers that were once vested in the king or queen are now exercised by government, and the
prime minister A prime minister, premier or chief of cabinet is the head of the Cabinet (government), cabinet and the leader of the Minister (government), ministers in the Executive (government), executive branch of government, often in a parliamentary syst ...
in particular. These are powers of day-to-day management, but tightly constrained to ensure that executive power cannot usurp Parliament or the courts. In the ''
Case of Prohibitions ''Case of Prohibitions'' [1607EWHC J23 (KB)is a UK constitutional law case decided by Sir Edward Coke. Before the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when the Parliamentary sovereignty in the United Kingdom, sovereignty of Parliament was confirmed, thi ...
'' in 1607, it was held that the royal prerogative could not be used to determine court cases, and in the ''Case of Proclamations'' in 1610 it was held new prerogative powers could not be created by the executive.''Case of Proclamations'' [1610
EWHC KB J22
/ref> It is also clear that no exercise of the prerogative can compromise any right contained in an Act of Parliament. So, for instance, in '' R (Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union'' the Supreme Court held that the Prime Minister could not notify the
European Commission The European Commission (EC) is the Executive (government), executive of the European Union (EU). It operates as a cabinet government, with 27 European Commissioner, members of the Commission (informally known as "Commissioners") headed by a P ...
of an intention to leave under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union without an Act of Parliament, because it could result in rights being withdrawn that were granted under the European Communities Act 1972, such as the right to work in other EU member states or vote in
European Parliament The European Parliament (EP) is one of the Legislature, legislative bodies of the European Union and one of its seven Institutions of the European Union, institutions. Together with the Council of the European Union (known as the Council and in ...
elections. Though royal prerogative powers can be categorised in different ways, there are around 15. First, the executive may create hereditary titles, confer honours and create peers. Second, the executive can legislate by an Order in Council, though this has been called an 'anachronistic survival'. Third, the executive can create and administer financial benefits schemes. Fourth, through the Attorney General the executive can stop prosecutions or pardon convicted offenders after taking advice. Fifth, the executive may acquire more territory or alter limits of British territorial waters. Sixth, the executive may expel aliens and theoretically restrain people from leaving the UK. Seventh, the executive can sign treaties, although before it is considered ratified the treaty must be laid before Parliament for 21 days and there must be no resolution against it. Eighth, the executive governs the armed forces and can do "all those things in an emergency which are necessary for the conduct of war". The executive cannot declare war without Parliament by convention, and in any case has no hope in funding war without Parliament. Ninth, the Prime Minister can appoint ministers, judges, public officials or royal commissioners. Tenth, the monarch needs to pay no tax, unless statute states it expressly. Eleventh, the executive may by
royal charter A royal charter is a formal grant issued by a monarch under royal prerogative The royal prerogative is a body of customary authority, privilege and immunity, recognized in common law and, sometimes, in Civil law (legal system), civil law ...
create corporations, such as the BBC, and franchises for markets, ferries and fisheries. Twelfth, the executive has the right to mine precious metals, and to take treasure troves. Thirteenth, it may make coins. Fourteenth, it can print or license the authorised version of the Bible, Book of Common Prayer and state papers. And fifteenth, subject to modern
family law Family law (also called matrimonial law or the law of domestic relations) is an area of the law that deals with family matters and domestic relations. Overview Subjects that commonly fall under a nation's body of family law include: * Marriage, ...
, it may take guardianship of infants. In addition to these royal prerogative powers, there are innumerable powers explicitly laid down in statutes enabling the executive to make legal changes. This includes a growing number of
Henry VIII Henry VIII (28 June 149128 January 1547) was King of England from 22 April 1509 until his death in 1547. Henry is best known for his Wives of Henry VIII, six marriages, and for his efforts to have his first marriage (to Catherine of Aragon) ...
clauses, which enable a Secretary of State to alter provisions of primary legislation. For this reason it has often been argued that executive authority should be reduced, written into statute, and never used to deprive people of rights without Parliament. All uses of the prerogative, however, are subject to judicial review: in the '' GCHQ case'' the House of Lords held that no person could be deprived of legitimate expectations by use of the royal prerogative. Although the Prime Minister is the head of Parliament, His Majesty's Government is formed by a larger group of Members of Parliament, or peers. The " cabinet" is a still smaller group of 22 or 23 people, though only twenty ministers may be paid. Each minister typically heads a Department or Ministry, which can be created or renamed by prerogative. Cabinet committees are usually organised by the Prime Minister. Every minister is expected to follow collective responsibility, and the Ministerial Code 2010. This includes rules that Ministers are "expected to behave in a way that upholds the highest standards of propriety", "give accurate and truthful information to Parliament", resign if they "knowingly mislead Parliament", to be "as open as possible", have no possible conflicts of interest and give a full list of interests to a permanent secretary, and only "remain in office for so long as they retain the confidence of the Prime Minister".
Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 (c. 25), or CRAG Act, is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom The Parliament of the United Kingdom is the Parliamentary sovereignty in the United Kingdom, supreme Legislature, leg ...
s 3, putting management of the civil service into statute. Civil Service Management Code s 11.1.1, civil servants employed at pleasure of the Crown, theoretically lacking a wrongful dismissal remedy according to somewhat outdated case law: '' Dunn v R'' 8961 QB 116 and '' Riordan v War Office''
959 Year 959 ( CMLIX) was a common year starting on Saturday A common year starting on Saturday is any non-leap year (i.e. a year with 365 days) that begins on Saturday, 1 January, and ends on Saturday, 31 December. Its dominical letter hence is ...
1 WLR 1046, but under the
Employment Rights Act 1996 The Employment Rights Act 1996 (c. 18) is a United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a country in Europe, off the north-western coast of the Europe ...
s 191, civil servants expressly have the right to claim
unfair dismissal In labour law, unfair dismissal is an act of employment termination made without good reason or contrary to the country's specific legislation. Situation per country Australia (See: ''Unfair dismissal (Australia), unfair dismissal in Australia'') ...
.
Assisting ministers is a modern
civil service The civil service is a collective term for a sector of government composed mainly of career civil servants hired on professional merit rather than appointed or elected, whose institutional tenure typically survives transitions of political leaders ...
and network of government bodies, who are employed at the pleasure of the Crown. The Civil Service Code requires civil servants to show "high standards of behaviour", uphold core values of "integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality", and never put themselves in a position that "might reasonably be seen to compromise their personal judgment or integrity". Since the
Freedom of Information Act 2000 The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (c. 36) is an Acts of Parliament in the United Kingdom, Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that creates a public "right of access" to information held by public authorities. It is the implementation ...
, it has been expected that government should be open about information, and should disclose it upon a request unless disclosure would compromise personal data, security or may run against the public interest. In this way the trend has been to more open, transparent and accountable governance.


Regional government

The constitution of British regional governments is an uncodified patchwork of authorities, mayors, councils and devolved government. In
Wales Wales ( cy, Cymru ) is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. It is bordered by England to the Wales–England border, east, the Irish Sea to the north and west, the Celtic Sea to the south west and the ...
,
Scotland Scotland (, ) is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. Covering the northern third of the island of Great Britain, mainland Scotland has a Anglo-Scottish border, border with England to the southeast ...
,
Northern Ireland Northern Ireland ( ga, Tuaisceart Éireann ; sco, label=Ulster Scots dialect, Ulster-Scots, Norlin Airlann) is a part of the United Kingdom, situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland, that is #Descriptions, variously described as ...
and
London London is the capital and List of urban areas in the United Kingdom, largest city of England and the United Kingdom, with a population of just under 9 million. It stands on the River Thames in south-east England at the head of a estuary dow ...
unified district or borough councils have local government powers, and since 1998 to 2006 new regional assemblies or Parliaments exercise extra powers devolved from Westminster. In
England England is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to its west and Scotland to its north. The Irish Sea lies northwest and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. It is separa ...
, there are 55 unitary authorities in the larger towns (e.g. Bristol, Brighton, Milton Keynes) and 36 metropolitan boroughs (surrounding Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Sheffield, and Newcastle) which function as unitary local authorities. In other parts of England, local government is split between two tiers of authority: 32 larger County Councils, and within those 192 District Councils, each sharing different functions. Since 1994, England has had eight regions for administrative purposes at Whitehall, yet these have no regional government or democratic assembly (like in London, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland) after a 2004 referendum on North East Assembly failed. This means that England has among the most centralised, and disunified systems of governance in the Commonwealth and Europe. Three main issues in local government are the authorities' financing, their powers, and the reform of governance structures. First, councils raise revenue from
Council Tax Council Tax is a taxation, local taxation system used in England, Scotland and Wales. It is a Property tax, tax on domestic property, which was introduced in 1993 by the Local Government Finance Act 1992, replacing the short-lived Poll tax (Grea ...
(charged on local residents according to property values in 1993) and
business rates Rates are a property tax, tax on property in the United Kingdom used to fund local government. Business rates are collected throughout the United Kingdom. Domestic rates are collected in Northern Ireland and were collected in England and Wales befo ...
charged on businesses with operations in the locality. These powers are, compared to other countries, extreme in limiting local government autonomy, and taxes can be subjected to a local referendum if the Secretary of State determines they are excessive. In real terms since 2010, central government cut local council funding by nearly 50 per cent, and real spending fell by 21 per cent, as councils failed to make up cuts through business rates. Unitary authorities and district councils are responsible for administering council tax and business rates. The duties of British local governments are also extremely limited compared to other countries, but also uncodified so that in 2011 the
Department for Communities and Local Government The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), formerly the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), is a Departments of the Government of the United Kingdom, department of Government of the United King ...
enumerated 1340 specific duties of local authorities. Generally, the
Localism Act 2011 The Localism Act 2011 (c. 20) is an Acts of Parliament in the United Kingdom, Act of Parliament that changes the powers of local government in England. The aim of the act is to facilitate the devolution of decision-making powers from central gov ...
section 1 states local authorities may do anything an individual person may do, unless prohibited by law, but this provision has little effect because human beings or
companies A company, abbreviated as co., is a legal entity representing an association of people, whether natural, legal or a mixture of both, with a specific objective. Company members share a common purpose and unite to achieve specific, declared ...
cannot tax or regulate other people in the way that governments must. The
Local Government Act 1972 The Local Government Act 1972 (c. 70) is an Act of Parliament, Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that reformed local government in the United Kingdom, local government in England and Wales on 1 April 1974. It was one of the most sig ...
section 101 says that a local authority can discharge its functions through a committee or any officer, and can transfer functions to another authority, while section 111 gives authorities the power to do any thing including spending or borrowing 'which is calculated to facilitate, or is conducive or incidental to, the discharge of any of their functions'. However the real duties of local council are found in hundreds of scattered Acts and statutory instruments. These include duties to administer planning consent, to carry out compulsory purchasing according to law, to administer school education, libraries, care for children, roads or highway maintenance and local buses, provide care for the elderly and disabled, prevent pollution and ensure clean air, ensure collection, recycling and disposal of waste, regulate building standards, provide social and affordable housing, and shelters for the homeless. Local authorities do not yet have powers common in other countries, such as setting minimum wages, regulating rents, or borrowing and taxing as is necessary in the public interest, which frustrates objectives of pluralism, localism and autonomy. Since 2009, authorities have been empowered to merge into 'combined authorities' and to have an elected mayor. This has been done around Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool, Newcastle, Leeds, Birmingham, the Tees Valley, Bristol and Peterborough. The functions of an elected mayor are not substantial, but can include those of Police and Crime Commissioners. In Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London there are also regional assemblies and Parliaments, similar to state or provincial governments in other countries. The extent of devolution differs in each place. The
Scotland Act 1998 The Scotland Act 1998 (c. 46) is an Act of Parliament, Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which legislated for the establishment of the Devolution, devolved Scottish Parliament with tax varying powers and the Scottish Government (then S ...
created a unicameral
Scottish Parliament The Scottish Parliament ( gd, Pàrlamaid na h-Alba ; sco, Scots Pairlament) is the devolution in the United Kingdom, devolved, unicameralism, unicameral legislature of Scotland. Located in the Holyrood, Edinburgh, Holyrood area of the capital ...
with 129 elected members each four years: 73 from single member constituencies with simple majority vote, and 56 from additional member systems of proportional representation. Under section 28, the Scottish Parliament can make any laws except for on 'reserved matters' listed in Schedule 5. These powers, reserved for the British Parliament, include foreign affairs, defence, finance, economic planning, home affairs, trade and industry, social security, employment, broadcasting, and equal opportunities. By convention, members of the British Parliament from Scottish constituencies do not vote on issues that the Scottish Parliament has exercised power over. This is the most powerful regional government so far. The
Northern Ireland Act 1998 __NOTOC__ The Northern Ireland Act 1998 is an Act of Parliament, Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which allowed Her Majesty's Government, Westminster to devolve power to Northern Ireland, after decades of Direct rule over Northern Irel ...
lists which matters are transferred to the Northern Ireland Assembly. The
Government of Wales Act 1998 The Government of Wales Act 1998 (c. 38) is an Act of Parliament, Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It was passed in 1998 by the Labour Party (UK), Labour government to create a Senedd Cymru – Welsh Parliament, Welsh Assembly, t ...
created a 60-member national assembly with elections every four years, and set out twenty fields of government competence, with some exceptions. The fields include agriculture, fisheries, forestry and rural development, economic development, education, environmental policy, health, highways and transport, housing, planning, and some aspects of social welfare. The Supreme Court has tended to interpret these powers in favour of devolution.


Human rights

Codification of
human rights Human rights are Morality, moral principles or Social norm, normsJames Nickel, with assistance from Thomas Pogge, M.B.E. Smith, and Leif Wenar, 13 December 2013, Stanford Encyclopedia of PhilosophyHuman Rights Retrieved 14 August 2014 for ce ...
is recent, but before the
Human Rights Act 1998 The Human Rights Act 1998 (c. 42) is an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom which received royal assent on 9 November 1998, and came into force on 2 October 2000. Its aim was to incorporate into UK law the rights contained in the European Con ...
and the
European Convention on Human Rights The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR; formally the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) is an international convention to protect human rights and political freedoms in Europe. Drafted in 1950 by th ...
, British law had one of the world's longest human rights traditions.
Magna Carta (Medieval Latin for "Great Charter of Freedoms"), commonly called (also ''Magna Charta''; "Great Charter"), is a royal charter of rights agreed to by King John of England at Runnymede, near Windsor, Berkshire, Windsor, on 15 June 1215. ...

Magna Carta
bound the King to require Parliament's consent before any tax, respect the right to a trial "by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land", stated that "We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right", guaranteed free movement for people, and preserved
common land Common land is land owned by a person or collectively by a number of persons, over which other persons have certain common rights, such as to allow their livestock to graze upon it, to collect Wood fuel, wood, or to cut turf for fuel. A person ...
for everyone. After the
English Civil War The English Civil War (1642–1651) was a series of civil wars and political machinations between Parliamentarians ("Roundheads") and Royalists led by Charles I ("Cavaliers"), mainly over the manner of Kingdom of England, England's governanc ...
the
Bill of Rights 1689 The Bill of Rights 1689 is an Act of the Parliament of England The Parliament of England was the legislature of the Kingdom of England from the 13th century until 1707 when it was replaced by the Parliament of Great Britain. Parliam ...
in England and Wales, and the
Claim of Rights Act 1689 The Claim of Right (c. 28) is an Act passed by the Convention of the Estates, a sister body to the Parliament of Scotland The Parliament of Scotland ( sco, Pairlament o Scotland; gd, Pàrlamaid na h-Alba) was the legislature of the King ...
in Scotland, enshrined principles of representative democracy, no tax without Parliament, freedom of speech in Parliament, and no "cruel and unusual punishment". By 1789, these ideas evolved and inspired both the
US Bill of Rights The United States Bill of Rights comprises the first ten list of amendments to the United States Constitution, amendments to the United States Constitution. Proposed following the often bitter 1787–88 debate over the Timeline of drafting a ...
, and the
Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (french: Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen de 1789, links=no), set by France's National Constituent Assembly (France), National Constituent Assembly in 1789, is a human right ...
after the American and
French Revolution The French Revolution ( ) was a period of radical political and societal change in France France (), officially the French Republic ( ), is a country primarily located in Western Europe. It also comprises of Overseas France, ...
s. Although some labelled natural rights as "nonsense upon stilts", more legal rights were slowly developed by Parliament and the courts. In 1792,
Mary Wollstonecraft Mary Wollstonecraft (, ; 27 April 1759 – 10 September 1797) was a British writer, philosopher, and advocate of women's rights. Until the late 20th century, Wollstonecraft's life, which encompassed several unconventional personal relationsh ...
began the British movement for women's rights and equality, while movements behind the
Tolpuddle Martyrs The Tolpuddle Martyrs were six agricultural labourers from the village of Tolpuddle in Dorset, England, who, in 1834, were convicted of swearing a secret oath as members of the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers. They were arrested on ...
and the
Chartists Chartism was a working-class The working class (or labouring class) comprises those engaged in manual labour, manual-labour occupations or industrial work, who are remunerated via wage, waged or salary, salaried contracts. Working-class ...
drove reform for labour and democratic freedom. Upon the catastrophe of
World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a world war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the World War II by country, vast majority of the world's countries—including all of the great power ...
and
The Holocaust The Holocaust, also known as the Shoah, was the genocide of History of the Jews in Europe, European Jews during World War II. Between 1941 and 1945, Nazi Germany and #Collaboration, its collaborators systematically murdered some Holoc ...
, the new
international law International law (also known as public international law and the law of nations) is the set of rules, norms, and standards generally recognized as binding between State (polity), states. It establishes normative guidelines and a common conceptua ...
order put the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 at its centre, enshrining civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. In 1950, the UK co-authored the
European Convention on Human Rights The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR; formally the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) is an international convention to protect human rights and political freedoms in Europe. Drafted in 1950 by th ...
, enabling people to appeal to the
European Court of Human Rights The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR or ECtHR), also known as the Strasbourg Court, is an international court of the Council of Europe which interprets the European Convention on Human Rights. The court hears applications alleging that a c ...
in
Strasbourg Strasbourg (, , ; german: Straßburg ; gsw, label=Bas Rhin Alsatian dialect, Alsatian, Strossburi , gsw, label=Haut Rhin Alsatian dialect, Alsatian, Strossburig ) is the Prefectures in France, prefecture and largest city of the Grand Est Re ...
even against Acts of Parliament: Parliament has always undertaken to comply with basic principles of
international law International law (also known as public international law and the law of nations) is the set of rules, norms, and standards generally recognized as binding between State (polity), states. It establishes normative guidelines and a common conceptua ...
. Because this appeals process was long, Parliament legislated to "bring rights home" with the
Human Rights Act 1998 The Human Rights Act 1998 (c. 42) is an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom which received royal assent on 9 November 1998, and came into force on 2 October 2000. Its aim was to incorporate into UK law the rights contained in the European Con ...
, so that people can raise human rights claims in British courts based on the Convention directly. The Convention contains the rights to life, rights against torture, against forced labour, to marry, to an effective remedy, and the right to suffer no discrimination in those rights. Most case law concerns the rights to
liberty Liberty is the ability to do as one pleases, or a right or immunity enjoyed by prescription or by grant (i.e. privilege). It is a synonym for the word freedom. In modern politics, liberty is understood as the state of being free within society fr ...
,
privacy Privacy (, ) is the ability of an individual or group to seclude themselves or information about themselves, and thereby express themselves selectively. The domain of privacy partially overlaps with security, which can include the concepts of a ...
,
freedom of conscience Freedom of thought (also called freedom of conscience) is the freedom of an individual to hold or consider a fact, viewpoint, or thought, independent of others' viewpoints. Overview Every person attempts to have a cognitive proficiency by ...
and
freedom of expression Freedom of speech is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanction. The rights, right to freedom of expression has been ...
, and to
freedom of association Freedom of association encompasses both an individual's right to join or leave groups voluntarily, the right of the group to take collective action to pursue the interests of its members, and the right of an club (organization), association to ac ...
and assembly. The UK also enshrines rights to fair labour standards, social security, and a multitude of social and economic rights through its legislation.


Administrative law

Administrative law, through
judicial review Judicial review is a process under which executive, legislative and administrative actions are subject to review by the judiciary The judiciary (also known as the judicial system, judicature, judicial branch, judiciative branch, and cou ...
, is essential to hold executive power and public bodies accountable under the law. In practice, constitutional principles emerge through cases of judicial review, because every public body, whose decisions affect people's lives, is created and bound by law. A person can apply to the High Court to challenge a public body's decision if they have a "sufficient interest", within three months of the grounds of the cause of action becoming known. By contrast, claims against public bodies in
tort A tort is a civil wrong that causes a claimant to suffer loss or harm, resulting in legal liability for the person who commits the tortious act. Tort law can be contrasted with criminal law, which deals with criminal wrongs that are punishab ...
or
contract A contract is a legally enforceable agreement between two or more Party (law), parties that creates, defines, and governs mutual rights and obligations between them. A contract typically involves the transfer of goods, Service (economics), ser ...
, where the Limitation Act 1980 usually sets the period as 6 years. Almost any public body, or private bodies exercising public functions, can be the target of judicial review, including a government department, a local council, any Minister, the Prime Minister, or any other body that is created by law. The only public body whose decisions cannot be reviewed is Parliament, when it passes an Act. Otherwise, a claimant can argue that a public body's decision was unlawful in five main types of case: (1) it exceeded the lawful power of the body, used its power for an improper purpose, or acted unreasonably, (2) it violated a legitimate expectation, (3) failed to exercise relevant and independent judgement, (4) exhibited bias or a
conflict of interest A conflict of interest (COI) is a situation in which a person or organization is involved in multiple wikt:interest#Noun, interests, finance, financial or otherwise, and serving one interest could involve working against another. Typically, t ...
, or failed to give a fair hearing, and (5) violated a human right. As a remedy, a claimant can ask for the public body's decisions to be declared void and quashed (or ''
certiorari In law, ''certiorari'' is a Legal process, court process to seek judicial review of a decision of a lower court or government agency. ''Certiorari'' comes from the name of an English prerogative writ, issued by a superior court to direct that t ...
''), or it could ask for an order to make the body do something (or ''
mandamus (; ) is a judicial remedy in the form of an order from a court to any government, subordinate court, corporation A corporation is an organization—usually a group of people or a company—authorized by the State (polity), state to a ...
''), or prevent the body from acting unlawfully (or
prohibition Prohibition is the act or practice of forbidding something by law; more particularly the term refers to the banning of the manufacturing, manufacture, storage (whether in barrels or in bottles), transportation, sale, possession, and consumption ...
). A court may also declare the parties' rights and duties, give an
injunction An injunction is a legal remedy, legal and equitable remedy in the form of a special court order that compels a party (law), party to do or refrain from specific acts. ("The United States courts of appeals, court of appeals ... has exclusive ju ...
, or compensation could also be payable in
tort A tort is a civil wrong that causes a claimant to suffer loss or harm, resulting in legal liability for the person who commits the tortious act. Tort law can be contrasted with criminal law, which deals with criminal wrongs that are punishab ...
or
contract A contract is a legally enforceable agreement between two or more Party (law), parties that creates, defines, and governs mutual rights and obligations between them. A contract typically involves the transfer of goods, Service (economics), ser ...
.


History

The history of the British constitution, though officially beginning in 1800, traces back to a time long before the four nations of
England England is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to its west and Scotland to its north. The Irish Sea lies northwest and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. It is separa ...
,
Scotland Scotland (, ) is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. Covering the northern third of the island of Great Britain, mainland Scotland has a Anglo-Scottish border, border with England to the southeast ...
,
Wales Wales ( cy, Cymru ) is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. It is bordered by England to the Wales–England border, east, the Irish Sea to the north and west, the Celtic Sea to the south west and the ...
and
Ireland Ireland ( ; ga, Éire ; Ulster Scots dialect, Ulster-Scots: ) is an island in the Atlantic Ocean, North Atlantic Ocean, in Northwestern Europe, north-western Europe. It is separated from Great Britain to its east by the North Channel (Grea ...
were fully formed. Before the
Norman Invasion The Norman Conquest (or the Conquest) was the 11th-century invasion and occupation of England by an army made up of thousands of Normans, Norman, Duchy of Brittany, Breton, County of Flanders, Flemish, and Kingdom of France, French troops, ...
of 1066, the written history of law was scant. Following the conquest, according to the legal record Laws of Edward the Confessor, in 1070
William the Conqueror William I; ang, WillelmI (Bates ''William the Conqueror'' p. 33– 9 September 1087), usually known as William the Conqueror and sometimes William the Bastard, was the first House of Normandy, Norman List of English monarchs#House of Norman ...
, on the advice of the King's Council ('' Curia Regis''), summoned nobles learned in the law from all parts of the country in order to learn the established laws and customs. After hearing from 12 men from each county on oath, he expressed the wish to establish norse law as the common law in England under one
monarch A monarch is a head of stateWebster's II New College DictionarMonarch Houghton Mifflin. Boston. 2001. p. 707. Life tenure, for life or until abdication, and therefore the head of state of a monarchy. A monarch may exercise the highest authority ...
because his ancestors and his Norman barons all came from Norway. He was, however, persuaded by those summoned, that the laws of the Britons, English and Picts should remain in force 'because it was hard to adopt laws and to judge according to those that they did not know'. It is recorded that 'Finally, by the counsel and at the request of his barons, he acquiesced' and authorised and confirmed the laws as they were under
Edward the Confessor Edward the Confessor ; la, Eduardus Confessor , ; ( 1003 – 5 January 1066) was one of the last Anglo-Saxon English kings. Usually considered the last king of the House of Wessex, he ruled from 1042 to 1066. Edward was the son of Æthel ...
. The
Domesday Book Domesday Book () – the Middle English spelling of "Doomsday Book" – is a manuscript record of the "Great Survey" of much of England and parts of Wales completed in 1086 by order of King William I, known as William the Conqueror. The manusc ...
was compiled in 1086 cataloguing all land and labour to levy
taxes A tax is a compulsory financial charge or some other type of levy imposed on a taxpayer (an individual or legal entity) by a government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally ...
. Just 12 per cent of people were free, while the feudal system made others serfs, slaves or bordars and cottars. Henry II, who became the monarch in 1154, established the
common law In law, common law (also known as judicial precedent, judge-made law, or case law) is the body of law created by judges and similar quasi-judicial tribunals by virtue of being stated in written opinions."The common law is not a brooding omnipres ...
by creating a unified system of law "common" to the country. In 1190
Richard the Lionheart Richard I (8 September 1157 – 6 April 1199) was King of England from 1189 until his death in 1199. He also ruled as Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Aquitaine and Duchy of Gascony, Gascony, Lord of Cyprus, and Count of Poitiers, Co ...
, more closely tied with the Pope in Rome, joined the
Third Crusade The Third Crusade (1189–1192) was an attempt by three European monarchs of Latin Christianity, Western Christianity (Philip II of France, Richard I of England and Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor) to reconquer the Holy Land following the Siege o ...
to invade the
Holy Land The Holy Land; Arabic language, Arabic: or is an area roughly located between the Mediterranean Sea and the Eastern Bank of the Jordan River, traditionally synonymous both with the biblical Land of Israel and with the Palestine (region), ...
, but at great cost. Taxes levied by Richard I, and his successor King John to pay for the wars led to intense discontent, and the aristocracy forcing the King to sign the
Magna Carta (Medieval Latin for "Great Charter of Freedoms"), commonly called (also ''Magna Charta''; "Great Charter"), is a royal charter of rights agreed to by King John of England at Runnymede, near Windsor, Berkshire, Windsor, on 15 June 1215. ...

Magna Carta
1215. This was a commitment to hold 'common counsel' before any taxation, hold courts at a fixed place, hold trials according to law or before an accused's peers, guarantee free movement of people for trade, and give back common land. Failure to abide by Magna Carta led to the
First Barons' War The First Barons' War (1215–1217) was a civil war in the Kingdom of England in which a group of rebellious major landowners (commonly referred to as English feudal barony, barons) led by Robert Fitzwalter waged war against John of England, Ki ...
, and the popular legend of
Robin Hood Robin Hood is a legendary heroic outlaw originally depicted in English folklore and subsequently featured in literature and film. According to legend, he was a highly skilled archery, archer and swordsman. In some versions of the legend, he ...
emerged: a returned crusader who robbed from the rich to give to the poor. The commitments on common land were soon recast in the Charter of the Forest 1217, signed at St Paul's by Henry III. These documents established that the monarch, even with apparent authority from
God In monotheistic thought, God is usually viewed as the supreme being, creator, and principal object of faith. Swinburne, R.G. "God" in Honderich, Ted. (ed)''The Oxford Companion to Philosophy'', Oxford University Press, 1995. God is typicall ...
, was bound by law, and it remains 'the nearest approach to an irrepealable "fundamental statute" that England has ever had.' Throughout the
Middle Ages In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages or medieval period lasted approximately from the late 5th to the late 15th centuries, similar to the Post-classical, post-classical period of World history (field), global history. It began with t ...
,
common land Common land is land owned by a person or collectively by a number of persons, over which other persons have certain common rights, such as to allow their livestock to graze upon it, to collect Wood fuel, wood, or to cut turf for fuel. A person ...
was a source of welfare for common people, peasant labourers bound by a feudal system of control. In 1348, the
Black Death The Black Death (also known as the Pestilence, the Great Mortality or the Plague) was a bubonic plague pandemic occurring in Western Eurasia and North Africa North Africa, or Northern Africa is a region encompassing the northern portio ...
struck England, and killed around a third of the population. As peasants lost their lords, and there was a shortage of workers, wages rose. The King and Parliament responded with the
Statute of Labourers 1351 The Statute of Labourers was a law created by the English parliament The Parliament of England was the legislature of the Kingdom of England from the 13th century until 1707 when it was replaced by the Parliament of Great Britain. Parliame ...
to freeze wage rises. This led to the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, where leaders demanded an end to feudalism, and for everything to be held in common. Despite the revolt's violent repression, slavery and serfdom broke down, yet most people remained without any substantial liberty, in political or economic rights. As sheep farming became more profitable than agricultural work, enclosures of common land dispossessed more people, who turned into paupers and were punished. Under
Henry VIII Henry VIII (28 June 149128 January 1547) was King of England from 22 April 1509 until his death in 1547. Henry is best known for his Wives of Henry VIII, six marriages, and for his efforts to have his first marriage (to Catherine of Aragon) ...
, to seal a divorce from
Catherine of Aragon Catherine of Aragon (also spelt as Katherine, ; 16 December 1485 – 7 January 1536) was Queen of England as the first wife of King Henry VIII from their marriage on 11 June 1509 until their annulment on 23 May 1533. She was previousl ...
and marry
Anne Boleyn Anne Boleyn (; 1501 or 1507 – 19 May 1536) was List of English royal consorts, Queen of England from 1533 to 1536, as the Wives of Henry VIII, second wife of King Henry VIII. The circumstances of her marriage and of her execution by behe ...
(who he soon beheaded for supposed infidelity), the
Church of England The Church of England (C of E) is the State religion, established List of Christian denominations, Christian church in England and the mother church of the international Anglican Communion. It traces its history to the Christian church record ...
was declared separate from Rome in the
Act of Supremacy 1534 The Acts of Supremacy are two acts passed by the Parliament of England in the 16th century that established the English monarchs as the head of the Church of England; two similar laws were passed by the Parliament of Ireland establishing the Eng ...
, with the King as the head. The Law in Wales Act 1535 united Wales and England in one administrative system, while the King became ever more despotic, executing the
Lord Chancellor The lord chancellor, formally the lord high chancellor of Great Britain, is the highest-ranking traditional minister among the Great Officers of State (United Kingdom), Great Officers of State in Scotland and England in the United Kingdom, no ...
,
Sir Thomas More Sir Thomas More (7 February 1478 – 6 July 1535), veneration, venerated in the Catholic Church as Saint Thomas More, was an English lawyer, judge, social philosopher, author, statesman, and noted Renaissance humanist. He also served Henry VII ...
in 1535, and Dissolution of the monasteries and murdering those who resisted. After Henry VIII died, and power struggles following the death of his boy
Edward VI Edward VI (12 October 1537 – 6 July 1553) was King of England and King of Ireland, Ireland from 28 January 1547 until his death in 1553. He was crowned on 20 February 1547 at the age of nine. Edward was the son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour ...
at age 15,
Elizabeth I Elizabeth I (7 September 153324 March 1603) was List of English monarchs, Queen of England and List of Irish monarchs, Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death in 1603. Elizabeth was the last of the five House of Tudor monarchs and is ...
, the daughter of Henry VIII and
Anne Boleyn Anne Boleyn (; 1501 or 1507 – 19 May 1536) was List of English royal consorts, Queen of England from 1533 to 1536, as the Wives of Henry VIII, second wife of King Henry VIII. The circumstances of her marriage and of her execution by behe ...
, took the throne in 1558. Half a century of prosperity followed as Elizabeth I avoided wars, but founded
corporations A corporation is an organization—usually a group of people or a company—authorized by the State (polity), state to act as a single entity (a legal entity recognized by private and public law "born out of statute"; a legal person in legal ...
including the
East India Company The East India Company (EIC) was an English, and later British, joint-stock company founded in 1600 and dissolved in 1874. It was formed to Indian Ocean trade, trade in the Indian Ocean region, initially with the East Indies (the Indian subco ...
to monopolise trade routes. Under her successor, James I, further companies were created to colonise North America, including the
London Company The London Company, officially known as the Virginia Company of London, was a Division (business), division of the Virginia Company with responsibility for British colonization of the Americas, colonizing the east coast of North America between ...
and the
Virginia Company The Virginia Company was an English trading company Chartered company, chartered by James VI and I, King James I on 10 April 1606 with the object of British colonization of the Americas, colonizing the eastern coast of America. The coast was nam ...
in 1606, and the Massachusetts Bay Company in 1628. Many religious dissidents left England to settle the new world. While Elizabeth I maintained a Protestant church, under her successor
James VI and I James VI and I (James Charles Stuart; 19 June 1566 – 27 March 1625) was King of Scotland as James VI from 24 July 1567 and King of England and King of Ireland, Ireland as James I from the Union of the Crowns, union of the Scottish and Eng ...
, who unified the Scottish and English Crowns, religious and political tensions grew as he asserted a
divine right of Kings In European Christianity, the divine right of kings, divine right, or God's mandation is a political and religious doctrine of political legitimacy of a monarchy. It stems from a specific Metaphysics, metaphysical framework in which a monarch ...
. This prompted a series of cases from Sir
Edward Coke Edward is an English given name A given name (also known as a forename or first name) is the part of a personal name quoted in that identifies a person, potentially with a middle name as well, and differentiates that person from the other ...
, the Chief Justice of the
Common Pleas A court of common pleas is a common kind of court structure found in various common law jurisdictions. The form originated with the Court of Common Pleas (England), Court of Common Pleas at Westminster, which was created to permit individuals to pr ...
and then King's Bench courts, which denied that the King could pass judgment in legal proceedings, and held that the
royal prerogative The royal prerogative is a body of customary authority, privilege and immunity, recognized in common law and, sometimes, in Civil law (legal system), civil law jurisdictions possessing a monarchy, as belonging to the monarch, sovereign and whic ...
was subject to the law and cannot be expanded. Coke CJ went even further in ''
Dr Bonham's case ''Thomas Bonham v College of Physicians'', commonly known as ''Dr. Bonham's Case'' or simply ''Bonham's Case'', was a case decided in 1610 by the Court of Common Pleas in England England is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country th ...
'', holding that even that "the common law will control Acts of Parliament". Though supported by some judges, the idea that common law courts could nullify Acts of Parliament was rejected, and the common law was formally placed under the King's control in the '' Earl of Oxford's case'', establishing that equity (then administered by the
Lord Chancellor The lord chancellor, formally the lord high chancellor of Great Britain, is the highest-ranking traditional minister among the Great Officers of State (United Kingdom), Great Officers of State in Scotland and England in the United Kingdom, no ...
in the House of Lords) was above common law. Coke fell from favour, and was removed from judicial office. When
Charles I Charles I may refer to: Kings and emperors * Charlemagne (742–814), numbered Charles I in the lists of Holy Roman Emperors and French kings * Charles I of Anjou (1226–1285), also king of Albania, Jerusalem, Naples and Sicily * Charles I of ...
succeeded to the throne in 1625, and more fervently asserted a divine right, including the ability to levy tax without Parliament, Coke and others presented the
Petition of Right 1628 The Petition of Right, passed on 7 June 1628, is an English constitutional document setting out specific individual protections against the state, reportedly of equal value to Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights 1689. It was part of a wider c ...
. This demanded the King to abide by Magna Carta, levy no tax without Parliament, not arbitrarily commit people to prison, not have martial law in times of peace, and not billet soldiers in private homes. Charles I responded by shutting down or proroguing Parliament and taxing trade (or "
ship money Ship money was a tax of medieval origin levied intermittently in the Kingdom of England until the middle of the 17th century. Assessed typically on the inhabitants of coastal areas of England, it was one of several taxes that English monarchs cou ...
") without authority. The country descended into the
English Civil War The English Civil War (1642–1651) was a series of civil wars and political machinations between Parliamentarians ("Roundheads") and Royalists led by Charles I ("Cavaliers"), mainly over the manner of Kingdom of England, England's governanc ...
in 1642 culminating in the capture and execution of King Charles I on
Whitehall Whitehall is a road and area in the City of Westminster, Central London. The road forms the first part of the A roads in Zone 3 of the Great Britain numbering scheme, A3212 road from Trafalgar Square to Chelsea, London, Chelsea. It is the main ...
in 1649 by the
New Model Army The New Model Army was a standing army formed in 1645 by the Roundhead, Parliamentarians during the First English Civil War, then disbanded after the Stuart Restoration in 1660. It differed from other armies employed in the 1639 to 1653 Wars ...
led by
Oliver Cromwell Oliver Cromwell (25 April 15993 September 1658) was an English politician and military officer who is widely regarded as one of the most important statesmen in History of England, English history. He came to prominence during the 1639 to 1651 ...
. Cromwell, not wishing to become a King, became a ''de facto'' dictator. After his death, the monarchy was restored with Charles II in 1660, but his successor James VII and II again attempted to assert divine right to rule. In 1688,
Parliament In modern politics, and history, a parliament is a legislative body of government. Generally, a modern parliament has three functions: Representation (politics), representing the Election#Suffrage, electorate, making laws, and overseeing ...
'invited' a replacement King and Queen, William and Mary of Orange, and after a brief conflict forced James II out. Known as the
Glorious Revolution The Glorious Revolution; gd, Rèabhlaid Ghlòrmhor; cy, Chwyldro Gogoneddus , also known as the ''Glorieuze Overtocht'' or ''Glorious Crossing'' in the Netherlands, is the sequence of events leading to the deposition of King James II and ...
, Parliament proclaimed a new
Bill of Rights 1689 The Bill of Rights 1689 is an Act of the Parliament of England The Parliament of England was the legislature of the Kingdom of England from the 13th century until 1707 when it was replaced by the Parliament of Great Britain. Parliam ...
, with a
Claim of Right Act 1689 The Claim of Right (c. 28) is an Act passed by the Convention of the Estates, a sister body to the Parliament of Scotland The Parliament of Scotland ( sco, Pairlament o Scotland; gd, Pàrlamaid na h-Alba) was the legislature of the King ...
in Scotland, that cemented
Parliamentary sovereignty Parliamentary sovereignty, also called parliamentary supremacy or legislative supremacy, is a concept in the constitutional law of some parliamentary democracies. It holds that the legislative body has absolute sovereignty and is supreme over all ...
. As well as reaffirming Magna Carta, it says the 'pretended power of suspending laws or the execution of laws by regal authority without consent of Parliament is illegal', that 'election of members of Parliament ought to be free', and that 'Parliament ought to be held frequently'. The justification for government itself, encapsulated by
John Locke John Locke (; 29 August 1632 – 28 October 1704) was an English philosopher and physician, widely regarded as one of the most influential of Age of Enlightenment, Enlightenment thinkers and commonly known as the "father of liberalism ...
in his '' Second Treatise on Government'' was the protection of people's rights: "lives, liberties and estates." With
Parliamentary sovereignty Parliamentary sovereignty, also called parliamentary supremacy or legislative supremacy, is a concept in the constitutional law of some parliamentary democracies. It holds that the legislative body has absolute sovereignty and is supreme over all ...
as the cornerstone of the new constitution, Parliament proceeded to set up a system of finance in the Bank of England Act 1694 and the Act of Settlement 1700 created an independent system of justice: judges were salaried and could not be removed except by both Houses of Parliament, no member of the House of Commons could be paid by the Crown, and the Crown had to be Anglican. In 1703, '' Ashby v White'' established that the
right to vote Suffrage, political franchise, or simply franchise, is the right to vote in representative democracy, public, political elections and referendums (although the term is sometimes used for any right to vote). In some languages, and occasionally i ...
was a constitutional right. The Treaty of Union of 1707, between the then independent states of Scotland and England resulted in them both merging their states to create a new international state, the Kingdom of Great Britain, and their parliaments to create a new Union Parliament, which continued to sit at Westminster. The Treaty also stipulated that Scottish private law would continue under a Scottish court system. The new union was soon faced with disaster as in the
Treaty of Utrecht The Peace of Utrecht was a series of peace treaty, peace treaties signed by the belligerents in the War of the Spanish Succession, in the Dutch city of Utrecht between April 1713 and February 1715. The war involved three contenders for the va ...
,
Spain , image_flag = Bandera de España.svg , image_coat = Escudo de España (mazonado).svg , national_motto = ''Plus ultra'' (Latin)(English: "Further Beyond") , national_anthem = (English: "Royal March") , i ...
granted the ''
Asiento de Negros The () was a monopoly contract between the Spanish Crown and various merchants for the right to provide Slavery in colonial Spanish America, African slaves to colonies in the Spanish Americas. The Spanish Empire rarely engaged in the trans-Atl ...
'' to Britain, allowing British merchants to sell slaves in
Spanish America Spanish America refers to the Spanish territories in the Americas during the Spanish colonization of the Americas. The term "Spanish America" was specifically used during the territories' Spanish Empire, imperial era between 15th century, 15th ...
. The
South Sea Company The South Sea Company (officially The Governor and Company of the merchants of Great Britain, trading to the South Seas and other parts of America, and for the encouragement of the Fishery) was a British joint-stock company founded in Ja ...
, incorporated to monopolise the ''asiento'' license, became the object of mass financial speculation, provoked by government ministers interested in its rising share price. When it transpired, contrary to promoters' stories, that no trade was done because the Spanish had revoked their promise the stock market crashed, driving economic chaos. This was made worse by the decision of conservative politicians to endorse the company to take over the
national debt A country's gross government debt (also called public debt, or sovereign debt) is the financial liabilities of the government sector. Changes in government debt over time reflect primarily borrowing due to past government deficits. A deficit o ...
as an alternative financier to the government over the Whig dominated
Bank of England The Bank of England is the central bank of the United Kingdom and the model on which most modern central banks have been based. Established in 1694 to act as the Kingdom of England, English Government's banker, and still one of the bankers fo ...
. The result of the crash was that the
Chancellor of the Exchequer The chancellor of the Exchequer, often abbreviated to chancellor, is a senior minister of the Crown within the Government of the United Kingdom, and head of HM Treasury, His Majesty's Treasury. As one of the four Great Offices of State, the Ch ...
was imprisoned in the
Tower of London The Tower of London, officially His Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, which is separa ...
for his corruption, the
Postmaster General A Postmaster General, in Anglosphere countries, is the chief executive officer of the postal service of that country, a Ministry (government department), ministerial office responsible for overseeing all other postmasters. The practice of having ...
committed suicide, and the disgraced Lord Chancellor was replaced with Lord King LC who promptly ruled that people in a position of trust must avoid any possibility of a conflict of interest. Out of the chaos,
Robert Walpole Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford, (26 August 1676 – 18 March 1745; known between 1725 and 1742 as Sir Robert Walpole) was a Kingdom of Great Britain, British statesman and Whigs (British political party), Whig politician who, as First Lor ...
emerged as a stable political figure who for 21 years held a majority of the House of Commons, and is now considered the first "
Prime Minister A prime minister, premier or chief of cabinet is the head of the Cabinet (government), cabinet and the leader of the Minister (government), ministers in the Executive (government), executive branch of government, often in a parliamentary syst ...
". In 1765, '' Entick v Carrington'' established that the government could do nothing but that which was empowered by law, while the first teacher of English law,
William Blackstone Sir William Blackstone (10 July 1723 – 14 February 1780) was an English jurist, judge and Tory (British political party), Tory politician of the eighteenth century. He is most noted for writing the ''Commentaries on the Laws of England''. Bo ...
represented the standard view in his ''
Commentaries on the Laws of England The ''Commentaries on the Laws of England'' are an influential 18th-century treatise on the common law In law, common law (also known as judicial precedent, judge-made law, or case law) is the body of law created by judges and similar quasi-j ...
'' that
slavery Slavery and enslavement are both the state and the condition of being a slave—someone forbidden to quit one's service for an enslaver, and who is treated by the enslaver as property. Slavery typically involves slaves being made to perf ...
was unlawful and that "the spirit of liberty is so deeply ingrained in our constitution" any person enslaved in England must be freed. However, the
Atlantic slave trade The Atlantic slave trade, transatlantic slave trade, or Euro-American slave trade involved the transportation by slave traders of enslaved African people, mainly to the Americas. The slave trade regularly used the triangular trade route and ...
had accelerated to the North American colonies. In 1772, when
Lord Mansfield William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, Privy Council of Great Britain, PC, Serjeant-at-law, SL (2 March 170520 March 1793) was a British barrister, politician and judge noted for his reform of English law. Born to Scottish nobility, he was edu ...
ruled in ''
Somerset v Stewart ''Somerset v Stewart'' (177298 ER 499(also known as ''Somersett's case'', ''v. XX Sommersett v Steuart and the Mansfield Judgment)'' is a judgment of the English Court of King's Bench (England), Court of King's Bench in 1772, relating to the r ...
'' that slavery was unlawful at common law, this set off a wave of outrage in southern, enslavement colonies of America. Together with northern colonies grievances over taxation without representation, this led to the
American Revolution The American Revolution was an ideological and political revolution that occurred in British America between 1765 and 1791. The Americans in the Thirteen Colonies formed independent states that defeated the British in the American Revolut ...
and
declaration of independence A declaration of independence or declaration of statehood or proclamation of independence is an assertion by a polity in a defined territory that it is independence, independent and constitutes a Sovereign state, state. Such places are usually d ...
in 1776. The British military failed to hold control. Instead, it began settling
Australia Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands. With an area of , Australia is the largest country by ...
from 1788. In 1789, the
French Revolution The French Revolution ( ) was a period of radical political and societal change in France France (), officially the French Republic ( ), is a country primarily located in Western Europe. It also comprises of Overseas France, ...
broke out, and the French King was deposed with demands for "liberty, equality and fraternity". The British aristocracy reacted with repression on free speech and association to forestall any similar movement. While figures like
Jeremy Bentham Jeremy Bentham (; 15 February 1748 ld Style and New Style dates, O.S. 4 February 1747– 6 June 1832) was an English philosopher, jurist, and social reformer regarded as the founder of modern utilitarianism. Bentham defined as the "fundam ...
called natural rights "nonsense upon stilts",
Mary Wollstonecraft Mary Wollstonecraft (, ; 27 April 1759 – 10 September 1797) was a British writer, philosopher, and advocate of women's rights. Until the late 20th century, Wollstonecraft's life, which encompassed several unconventional personal relationsh ...
called for ''
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman ''A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects'' (1792), written by British philosopher and women's rights advocate Mary Wollstonecraft Mary Wollstonecraft (, ; 27 April 1759 – 10 September 1 ...
'' as well as men, arguing that unjust gender and class oppression flowed from "the respect paid to property... as from a poisoned fountain". While successful in the
Napoleonic Wars The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) were a series of major global conflicts pitting the First French Empire, French Empire and its allies, led by Napoleon, Napoleon I, against a fluctuating array of Coalition forces of the Napoleonic Wars, Europe ...
in defeating France, and cementing union with Ireland in the
Act of Union 1800 Act or ACT may refer to: Arts and entertainment * A.C.T, a Swedish band * Act (band), a British band * Act (drama), a segment of a play or opera * ACT Music, a German music label * ACT Theatre, in Seattle, Washington, US * Acting, theatr ...
, liberty, freedom and democracy were scarcely protected in the new "United Kingdom". During this time, with the invention of the
steam engine A steam engine is a heat engine that performs mechanical work using steam as its working fluid. The steam engine uses the force produced by steam pressure to push a piston back and forth inside a Cylinder (locomotive), cylinder. This pus ...
the
Industrial Revolution The Industrial Revolution was the transition to new manufacturing processes in Great Britain, continental Europe, and the United States, that occurred during the period from around 1760 to about 1820–1840. This transition included going fr ...
had begun. Poverty had also accelerated through the
Speenhamland system The Speenhamland system was a form of outdoor relief intended to mitigate rural poverty in England and Wales at the end of the 18th century and during the early 19th century. The law was an amendment to the Elizabethan Poor Law. It was created as ...
of
poor laws In Kingdom of England, English and British Isles, British history, poor relief refers to government and ecclesiastical action to relieve poverty. Over the centuries, various authorities have needed to decide whose poverty deserves relief and a ...
by subsidising employers and landowners with parish rates. The
Corn Laws The Corn Laws were tariff A tariff is a tax imposed by the government of a country or by a supranational union on imports or exports of goods. Besides being a source of revenue for the government, import duties can also be a form of ...
from 1815 further impoverished people by fixing prices to maintain landowner profits. While the
Great Reform Act 1832 The Representation of the People Act 1832 (also known as the 1832 Reform Act, Great Reform Act or First Reform Act) was an Act of Parliament, Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom (indexed as 2 & 3 Will. IV c. 45) that introduced major chan ...
extended the vote slightly, only those with property had any representation in Parliament. The 1833 Slavery Abolition Act abolished slavery within the British Empire, compensating slave owners and made ex-slaves in the colonies work for their owners for four to six years as indentured servants without pay; this was abolished in 1838 after public outcry. With the
Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 The ''Poor Law Amendment Act 1834'' (PLAA) known widely as the New Poor Law, was an Act of Parliament, Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed by the British Whig Party, Whig government of Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, Earl Grey. It c ...
, further punishment for poverty was inflicted as people were put into work houses if found to be unemployed. In '' R v Lovelass'' a group of agricultural workers who formed a trade union were prosecuted and sentenced to be transported to Australia under the Unlawful Oaths Act 1797, triggering mass protests. A movement called
Chartism Chartism was a working-class movement for political reform in the United Kingdom that erupted from 1838 to 1857 and was strongest in 1839, 1842 and 1848. It took its name from the People's Charter of 1838 and was a national protest movement, w ...
grew demanding the right to vote for everyone in free and fair elections. As the great famine hit Ireland and millions migrated to the
United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country Continental United States, primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 U.S. state, states, a Washington, D.C., ...
, Chartists staged a mass march from Kennington Common to Parliament in 1848 as
revolutions In political science, a revolution (Latin: ''revolutio'', "a turn around") is a fundamental and relatively sudden change in political power and political organization which occurs when the population revolts against the government, typically due ...
broke out across Europe, and the ''
Communist Manifesto ''The Communist Manifesto'', originally the ''Manifesto of the Communist Party'' (german: Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei), is a political pamphlet written by German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Commissioned by the Commu ...
'' was drafted by German revolutionary
Karl Marx Karl Heinrich Marx (; 5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) was a German philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist, political theorist, journalist, Critique of political economy, critic of political economy, and socialist revolutionary. His be ...
and Manchester factory owner
Friedrich Engels Friedrich Engels ( ,"Engels"
''Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary''.
Crimean War The Crimean War, , was fought from October 1853 to February 1856 between Russian Empire, Russia and an ultimately victorious alliance of the Ottoman Empire, Second French Empire, France, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Uni ...
distracted from social reform and
Viscount Palmerston Viscount Palmerston was a title in the Peerage of Ireland. It was created on 12 March 1723 for Henry Temple, 1st Viscount Palmerston, Henry Temple, who subsequently represented East Grinstead (UK Parliament constituency), East Grinstead, Bossiney ...
opposed anything, the
American Civil War The American Civil War (April 12, 1861 – May 26, 1865; also known by Names of the American Civil War, other names) was a civil war in the United States. It was fought between the Union (American Civil War), Union ("the North") and t ...
of 1860 to 1865 ended slavery in the US, and the UK gradually enabled greater political freedom. In the Second Reform Act 1867 more middle class property owners were enfranchised, the
Elementary Education Act 1870 The Elementary Education Act 1870, commonly known as Forster's Education Act, set the framework for schooling of all children between the ages of 5 and 12 in England and Wales. It established local education authorities with defined powers, autho ...
provided free primary school, and the Trade Union Act 1871 enabled free association without criminal penalty. The Representation of the People Act 1884 reduced the property qualification further, so that around one third of men in Britain could vote. However, the act did not establish universal suffrage; 40% of men and all women could not vote. From the start of the 20th century, Britain underwent vast social and constitutional change, beginning with an attempt by the
House of Lords The House of Lords, also known as the House of Peers, is the Bicameralism, upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Membership is by Life peer, appointment, Hereditary peer, heredity or Lords Spiritual, official function. Like the ...
to suppress British trade unions. In response, the labour movement organised to support representatives in Parliament, and in the 1906 general election won 29 seats and supported the
Liberal Party The Liberal Party is any of many political parties A political party is an organization that coordinates candidates to compete in a particular country's elections. It is common for the members of a party to hold similar ideas about politics ...
's programme of reform. This included a legal guarantee of the right of unions to collectively bargain and strike for fair wages, an old age pension, a system of minimum wages, a People's Budget with higher taxes on the wealthy to fund spending. After a further election brought by the
House of Lords The House of Lords, also known as the House of Peers, is the Bicameralism, upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Membership is by Life peer, appointment, Hereditary peer, heredity or Lords Spiritual, official function. Like the ...
blocking reform, Parliament pass a
National Insurance National Insurance (NI) is a fundamental component of the welfare state in the United Kingdom. It acts as a form of social security, since payment of NI contributions establishes entitlement to certain state benefits for workers and their famili ...
system for welfare, and the
Parliament Act 1911 The Parliament Act 1911 (1 & 2 Geo. 5 c. 13) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom The Parliament of the United Kingdom is the Parliamentary sovereignty in the United Kingdom, supreme Legislature, legislative body of the Uni ...
prevented the House of Lords blocking legislation for more than two years, and removed the right to delay any money bills. Despite this, the Liberal government, against the opposition of Labour, armed for and entered the
First World War World War I (28 July 1914 11 November 1918), often abbreviated as WWI, was List of wars and anthropogenic disasters by death toll, one of the deadliest global conflicts in history. Belligerents included much of Europe, the Russian Empire, ...
. At the end of the War, with millions dead, Parliament passed the
Representation of the People Act 1918 The Representation of the People Act 1918 was an Act of Parliament passed to reform the elections in the United Kingdom, electoral system in Great Britain and Ireland. It is sometimes known as the Fourth Reform Act. The Act extended the Suffrage, ...
which enabled every adult male the vote, although it was only after the mass protest of the
Suffragettes A suffragette was a member of an activist women's organisation in the early 20th century who, under the banner "Votes for Women", fought for women's suffrage, the right to vote in public elections in the United Kingdom. The term refers in part ...
that the
Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928 The Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928 was an Act of Parliament, Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. This act expanded on the Representation of the People Act 1918 which had given some women the vote in Parliamentary ...
enabled all women to vote, and that the UK became democratic. The War also triggered uprising in Ireland, and an
Irish War of Independence The Irish War of Independence () or Anglo-Irish War was a guerrilla war fought in Ireland from 1919 to 1921 between the Irish Republican Army (1919–1922), Irish Republican Army (IRA, the army of the Irish Republic) and United Kingdom of Gre ...
leading to the partition of the island between the
Republic of Ireland Ireland ( ga, Éire ), also known as the Republic of Ireland (), is a country in north-western Europe consisting of 26 of the 32 Counties of Ireland, counties of the island of Ireland. The capital and largest city is Dublin, on the eastern ...
in the south and
Northern Ireland Northern Ireland ( ga, Tuaisceart Éireann ; sco, label=Ulster Scots dialect, Ulster-Scots, Norlin Airlann) is a part of the United Kingdom, situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland, that is #Descriptions, variously described as ...
in the
Government of Ireland Act 1920 The Government of Ireland Act 1920 (10 & 11 Geo. 5 c. 67) was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom The Parliament of the United Kingdom is the Parliamentary sovereignty in the United Kingdom, supreme Legislature, legislativ ...
. The
Versailles Treaty The Treaty of Versailles (french: Traité de Versailles; german: Versailler Vertrag, ) was the most important of the Peace treaty, peace treaties of World War I. It ended the declaration of war, state of war between Germany and the Allies of ...
at the end of the War demanded German reparations, beggaring the country through the 1920s and upon the
Great Depression The Great Depression (19291939) was an economic shock that impacted most countries across the world. It was a period of economic depression that became evident after a major fall in stock prices in the United States. The Financial contagion, ...
leading to a fascist collapse under
Hitler Adolf Hitler (; 20 April 188930 April 1945) was an Austrian-born German politician who was dictator of Nazi Germany, Germany from 1933 until Death of Adolf Hitler, his death in 1945. Adolf Hitler's rise to power, He rose to power as the le ...
. The failed international law system, was replaced following the
Second World War World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a world war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the World War II by country, vast majority of the world's countries—including all of the great power ...
with the
United Nations The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organization whose stated purposes are to maintain international peace and international security, security, develop friendly relations among nations, achieve international cooperation, and be ...

United Nations
where the UK held a permanent seat on the
UN Security Council The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is one of the Organs of the United Nations, six principal organs of the United Nations (UN) and is charged with ensuring international security, international peace and security, recommending the admi ...
. However the
British Empire The British Empire was composed of the dominions, Crown colony, colonies, protectorates, League of Nations mandate, mandates, and other Dependent territory, territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom and its predecessor states. I ...
began to crumble as decolonization occurred in Asia,
Africa Africa is the world's second-largest and second-most populous continent, after Asia in both cases. At about 30.3 million km2 (11.7 million square miles) including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of Earth's total surface area ...
and
the Americas The Americas, which are sometimes collectively called America, are a landmass comprising the totality of North America, North and South America. The Americas make up most of the land in Earth's Western Hemisphere and comprise the New World. ...
. To prevent any recurrence of
the Holocaust The Holocaust, also known as the Shoah, was the genocide of History of the Jews in Europe, European Jews during World War II. Between 1941 and 1945, Nazi Germany and #Collaboration, its collaborators systematically murdered some Holoc ...
and
war War is an intense armed conflict between State (polity), states, governments, Society, societies, or paramilitary groups such as Mercenary, mercenaries, Insurgency, insurgents, and militias. It is generally characterized by extreme violenc ...
, the
Council of Europe The Council of Europe (CoE; french: Conseil de l'Europe, ) is an international organisation founded in the wake of World War II to uphold European Convention on Human Rights, human rights, democracy and the Law in Europe, rule of law in Europe. ...

Council of Europe
was established to draft the
European Convention on Human Rights The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR; formally the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) is an international convention to protect human rights and political freedoms in Europe. Drafted in 1950 by th ...
in 1950. Further it was seen that the only way to prevent conflict was through economic integration. The
European Economic Community The European Economic Community (EEC) was a regional organization created by the Treaty of Rome of 1957,Today the largely rewritten treaty continues in force as the ''Treaty on the functioning of the European Union'', as renamed by the Lisbo ...
, which became the
European Union The European Union (EU) is a supranational union, supranational political union, political and economic union of Member state of the European Union, member states that are located primarily in Europe, Europe. The union has a total area of ...

European Union
in 1992, was supported by
Winston Churchill Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill (30 November 187424 January 1965) was a British statesman, soldier, and writer who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom twice, from 1940 to 1945 Winston Churchill in the Second World War, dur ...
with the UK to be "at the centre", although it did not enter until the European Communities Act 1972. Under
Margaret Thatcher Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher (; 13 October 19258 April 2013) was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990 and Leader of the Conservative Party (UK), Leader of the Conservative Party from 1975 to 1990. S ...
, significant cuts were made to public services, labour rights, and the powers of local government, including abolishing the
Greater London Council The Greater London Council (GLC) was the top-tier local government administrative body for Greater London from 1965 to 1986. It replaced the earlier London County Council (LCC) which had covered a much smaller area. The GLC was dissolved in 198 ...
. However some powers were restored with extensive devolution of power in the
Scotland Act 1998 The Scotland Act 1998 (c. 46) is an Act of Parliament, Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which legislated for the establishment of the Devolution, devolved Scottish Parliament with tax varying powers and the Scottish Government (then S ...
,
Northern Ireland Act 1998 __NOTOC__ The Northern Ireland Act 1998 is an Act of Parliament, Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which allowed Her Majesty's Government, Westminster to devolve power to Northern Ireland, after decades of Direct rule over Northern Irel ...
,
Greater London Authority Act 1999 The Greater London Authority Act 1999 (c. 29) is the Act of Parliament that established the Greater London Authority, the London Assembly and the Mayor of London. Background The Act was brought in after 1998 Greater London Authority referendum ...
and the
Government of Wales Act 2006 The Government of Wales Act 2006 (c 32) is an Act of Parliament, Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that reformed the then-National Assembly for Wales (now the Senedd) and allows further powers to be granted to it more easily. The Act ...
. After many years of
armed conflict War is an intense armed conflict between State (polity), states, governments, Society, societies, or paramilitary groups such as Mercenary, mercenaries, Insurgency, insurgents, and militias. It is generally characterized by extreme violenc ...
in Northern Ireland, the
Good Friday Agreement The Good Friday Agreement (GFA), or Belfast Agreement ( ga, Comhaontú Aoine an Chéasta or ; Ulster Scots dialects, Ulster-Scots: or ), is a pair of agreements signed on 10 April 1998 that ended most of the violence of The Troubles, a po ...
of 1998 brought peace. The
Human Rights Act 1998 The Human Rights Act 1998 (c. 42) is an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom which received royal assent on 9 November 1998, and came into force on 2 October 2000. Its aim was to incorporate into UK law the rights contained in the European Con ...
empowered courts to apply Convention rights without the need for claimants to take cases to the Strasbourg court. The
House of Lords Act 1999 The House of Lords Act 1999 (c. 34) is an Act of Parliament, Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that Lords Reform, reformed the House of Lords, one of the chambers of Parliament. The Act was given Royal Assent on 11 November 1999. For ...
reduced but did not fully eliminate hereditary peers. Since a
financial crisis of 2007–2008 Finance is the study and discipline of money, currency and capital assets. It is related to, but not synonymous with economics, the study of Production (economics), production, Distribution (economics), distribution, and Consumption (economics) ...
, a Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition launched a programme of "
austerity Austerity is a set of Political economy, political-economic policies that aim to reduce Government budget balance, government budget deficits through spending cuts, tax increases, or a combination of both. There are three primary types of au ...
" cuts, and cemented their term in the
Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (c. 14) (FTPA) was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom The Parliament of the United Kingdom is the Parliamentary sovereignty in the United Kingdom, supreme Legislature, legislative body of the ...
. After 2015, however, early elections were held anyway in 2017, following a referendum on EU membership that resulted in 51.89 per cent of people favouring to leave, and 48.11 per cent of voters favouring to remain.


Theory and reform

The legal scholar Eric Barendt argues that the uncodified nature of the United Kingdom constitution does not mean it should not be characterised as a "constitution", but also claims that the lack of an effective
separation of powers Separation of powers refers to the division of a state (polity), state's government into branches, each with separate, independent power (social and political), powers and responsibilities, so that the powers of one branch are not in conflic ...
, and the fact that
parliamentary sovereignty Parliamentary sovereignty, also called parliamentary supremacy or legislative supremacy, is a concept in the constitutional law of some parliamentary democracies. It holds that the legislative body has absolute sovereignty and is supreme over all ...
allows Parliament to overrule fundamental rights, makes it to some extent a "facade" constitution.
Lord Scarman Leslie George Scarman, Baron Scarman, (29 July 1911 – 8 December 2004) was an English judge and barrister, who served as a Law Lord until his retirement in 1986. Early life and education Scarman was born in Streatham but grew up on the borde ...
presents a spirited argument for a written constitution for the UK, but still refers to the 1688 compromise and resulting Acts of Parliament as a constitution. A. V. Dicey identified that ultimately "the electorate are politically sovereign," and Parliament is legally sovereign. Barendt argues that the greater political party discipline in the
House of Commons The House of Commons is the name for the elected lower house of the bicameral parliaments of the United Kingdom and Canada. In both of these countries, the Commons holds much more legislative power than the nominally upper house of parliament. T ...
that has evolved since Dicey's era, and the reduction in checks on governmental power, has led to an excessively powerful government that is not legally constrained by the observance of fundamental rights. A Constitution would impose limits on what Parliament could do. To date, the Parliament of the UK has no limit on its power other than the possibility of extra-parliamentary action (by the people) and of other sovereign states (pursuant to treaties made by Parliament and otherwise). It has been commented by Dicey that formally, the British Parliament was limited by the terms of the international treaties that created it in the first place. His comment that it would be imprudent for the British Parliament to try and abolish Scots Law for example, has been criticised judicially as "cynical" but was written in the high Victorian era when Parliament was grappling with the concept of Irish Home Rule, strongly opposed by many politicians at the time. Proponents of a codified constitution argue it would strengthen the legal protection of democracy and freedom. As a strong advocate of the "unwritten constitution", Dicey highlighted that English rights were embedded in the general English
common law In law, common law (also known as judicial precedent, judge-made law, or case law) is the body of law created by judges and similar quasi-judicial tribunals by virtue of being stated in written opinions."The common law is not a brooding omnipres ...
of personal liberty, and "the institutions and manners of the nation". Opponents of a codified constitution argue that the country is not based on a founding document that tells its citizens who they are and what they can do. There is also a belief that any unwarranted encroachment on the spirit of constitutional authority would be stiffly resisted by the British people, a perception expounded by the 19th century American judge Justice Bradley in the course of delivering his opinion in a case heard in Louisiana in 1873: "England has no written constitution, it is true; but it has an unwritten one, resting in the acknowledged, and frequently declared, privileges of Parliament and the people, to violate which in any material respect would produce a revolution in an hour." The Labour government under prime minister
Tony Blair Sir Anthony Charles Lynton Blair (born 6 May 1953) is a British former politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1997 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party (UK), Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007. He pr ...
instituted constitutional reforms in the late 1990s and early-to-mid 2000s. The effective incorporation of the
European Convention on Human Rights The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR; formally the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) is an international convention to protect human rights and political freedoms in Europe. Drafted in 1950 by th ...
into British law through the
Human Rights Act 1998 The Human Rights Act 1998 (c. 42) is an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom which received royal assent on 9 November 1998, and came into force on 2 October 2000. Its aim was to incorporate into UK law the rights contained in the European Con ...
has granted citizens specific positive rights and given the judiciary some power to enforce them. The courts can advise Parliament of
primary legislation Primary legislation and secondary legislation (the latter also called delegated legislation or subordinate legislation) are two forms of law, created respectively by the legislative and executive branches of governments in representative dem ...
that conflicts with the Act by means of " Declarations of Incompatibility" – however Parliament is not bound to amend the law nor can the judiciary void any statute – and it can refuse to enforce, or "strike down", any incompatible
secondary legislation Primary legislation and secondary legislation (the latter also called delegated legislation or subordinate legislation) are two forms of law Law is a set of rules that are created and are law enforcement, enforceable by social or governm ...
. Any actions of government authorities that violate Convention rights are illegal except if mandated by an Act of Parliament. Changes also include the
Constitutional Reform Act 2005 The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (c 4) is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom The Parliament of the United Kingdom is the Parliamentary sovereignty in the United Kingdom, supreme Legislature, legislative body of the United Ki ...
which alters the structure of the House of Lords to separate its judicial and legislative functions. For example, the legislative, judicial and executive functions of the
Lord Chancellor The lord chancellor, formally the lord high chancellor of Great Britain, is the highest-ranking traditional minister among the Great Officers of State (United Kingdom), Great Officers of State in Scotland and England in the United Kingdom, no ...
are now shared between the Lord Chancellor (executive),
Lord Chief Justice Lord is an appellation for a person or deity who has authority, control, or power (social and political), power over others, acting as a master, chief, or ruler. The appellation can also denote certain persons who hold a title of the Peerage ...
(judicial) and the newly created post of
Lord Speaker The Lord Speaker is the presiding officer, chairman and highest authority of the House of Lords The House of Lords, also known as the House of Peers, is the Bicameralism, upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Membership is ...
(legislative). The role of
Law Lord Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, commonly known as Law Lords, were judges appointed under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876 to the British House of Lords, as a committee of the House, effectively to exercise the judicial functions of the House of ...
(a member of the judiciary in the House of Lords) was abolished by transferring them to the new
Supreme Court of the United Kingdom The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom (initialism: UKSC or the acronym: SCOTUK) is the Supreme court, final court of appeal in the United Kingdom for all civil cases, and for criminal cases originating in England, Wales and Northern Ireland ...
in October 2009.
Gordon Brown James Gordon Brown (born 20 February 1951) is a British former politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Labour Party (UK), Leader of the Labour Party from 2007 to 2010. He previously served as Chance ...
launched a " Governance of Britain" process when he took over as PM in 2007. This was an ongoing process of constitutional reform with the
Ministry of Justice A Ministry of Justice is a common type of government department that serves as a justice ministry. Lists of current ministries of justice Named "Ministry" * Ministry of Justice (Abkhazia) * Ministry of Justice (Afghanistan) * Ministry of Justic ...
as lead ministry. The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 is a piece of constitutional legislation. It enshrines in statute the impartiality and integrity of the British Civil Service and the principle of open and fair recruitment. It enshrines in law the
Ponsonby Rule The Ponsonby Rule was a constitutional convention in United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a country in Europe, off the north-western coast of t ...
which requires that treaties are laid before Parliament before they can be ratified. The Coalition Government formed in May 2010 proposed a series of further constitutional reforms in their coalition agreement. Consequently, the
Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 (c. 1) is an Act of Parliament, Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that made provision for the holding of a referendum on whether to introduce the Instant-runoff voting, Alternat ...
and the
Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (c. 14) (FTPA) was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom The Parliament of the United Kingdom is the Parliamentary sovereignty in the United Kingdom, supreme Legislature, legislative body of the ...
were passed, though the government of
Boris Johnson Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (; born 19 June 1964) is a British politician, writer and journalist who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Conservative Party (UK), Leader of the Conservative Party from 20 ...
subsequently
repealed A repeal (O.F. ''rapel'', modern ''rappel'', from ''rapeler'', ''rappeler'', revoke, ''re'' and ''appeler'', appeal) is the removal or reversal of a law. There are two basic types of repeal; a repeal with a re-enactment is used to replace the law ...
the latter in 2022. The Acts were intended to reduce the number of MPs in the House of Commons from 650 to 600, change the way the UK is divided into parliamentary constituencies, introduce a referendum on changing the system used to elect MPs and take the power to dissolve Parliament away from the monarch. The Coalition also promised to introduce law on the reform of the House of Lords. In the referendum, the Alternative Vote system was rejected by 67% to 33%, and therefore all reforms regarding the voting system were dropped. Conservatives forced the government to drop House of Lords reforms, and the Liberal Democrats said they would refuse to support changes to the boundaries of constituencies, as they believed such changes favoured the Conservatives.


See also

* British human rights law * British administrative law * British labour law *
English land law English land law is the law of real property In English common law, real property, real estate, immovable property or, solely in the US and Canada, realty, is land which is the property of some person and all structures (also called Lan ...
* Constitutional government * House of Lords Constitution Committee * Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee * Parliament in the Making * Royal Commission on the Constitution (United Kingdom) * Power Inquiry * Ancient constitution of England


Notes


References

;Articles *A Blick,
Magna Carta and contemporary constitutional change
(2015) History and Policy * V Bogdanor, T Khaitan and S Vogenauer, 'Should Britain have a written constitution?' (2007
78(4) Political Quarterly 499
* Briggs, Asa, “Trollope, Bagehot, and the English Constitution,” in Briggs, ''Victorian People'' (1955) pp. 87–115
online
* KD Ewing, 'The Resilience of the Political Constitution' (2013
14(12) German Law Journal 2111
*JAW Griffith, 'The Political Constitution' (1979
42(1) Modern Law Review 1
* F Kessler, 'Natural Law, Justice and Democracy—Some Reflections on Three Types of Thinking About Law and Justice' (1944
19 Tulane Law Review 32
* Lord Hoffmann, (2013
17 Oxford Law News 8-9
from a tribute at St John's Smith Square on 5 June 2013 * O Kahn-Freund, 'Autobiographical Memories of the Weimar Republic: A Conversation with Wolfgang Luthardt' (February 1978
KCL Law School Research Paper No. 2016-34
*J Laws, 'Law and Democracy' 995Public Law 72 * S Webb, 'Socialism: true and false. A lecture delivered to the Fabian Society' (21 January 1894) Fabian Tract, 51 * S Webb, 'The reform of the House of Lords' (1917) Fabian Tract, 183 ;Books * W Bagehot, ''
The English Constitution ''The English Constitution'' is a book by Walter Bagehot. First serialised in ''The Fortnightly Review'' between 15 May 1865 and 1 January 1867, and later published in book form in 1867, it explores the constitution of the United Kingdom—spec ...
'' (1867) * Lord Bingham of Cornhill, ''Rule of Law'' (2010) * AV Dicey, ''Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution''
3rd edn 1889
* H Arendt, '' Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil'' (1963) * J Froissart, ''
Froissart's Chronicles Froissart's ''Chronicles'' (or ''Chroniques'') are a prose history of the Hundred Years' War The Hundred Years' War (; 1337–1453) was a series of armed conflicts between the kingdoms of Kingdom of England, England and Kingdom of F ...
'' (1385) translated by GC Macaulay
1895
* I Jennings, ''A Federation for Western Europe''
1940
* J Locke, ''
Two Treatises of Government ''Two Treatises of Government'' (or ''Two Treatises of Government: In the Former, The False Principles, and Foundation of Sir Robert Filmer, and His Followers, Are Detected and Overthrown. The Latter Is an Essay Concerning The True Original, ...
''
1689Book II, An Essay Concerning the True Origin, Extent, and End of Civil Government
* FW Maitland, ''The Constitutional History of England''
CUP 1919
* JS Mill, ''
On Liberty ''On Liberty'' is a philosophical essay by the English philosopher John Stuart Mill John Stuart Mill (20 May 1806 – 7 May 1873) was an English philosopher, Political economy, political economist, Member of Parliament (United Kingdom ...
''
1859
* JS Mill, '' Considerations on Representative Government''
1861
* T More, ''
Utopia A utopia ( ) typically describes an imaginary community or society that possesses highly desirable or nearly perfect qualities for its members. It was coined by Sir Thomas More for his 1516 book '' Utopia'', describing a fictional island soc ...
'' (1516) translated by
Gilbert Burnet Gilbert Burnet (18 September 1643 – 17 March 1715) was a Scottish philosopher and historian, and Bishop of Salisbury The Bishop of Salisbury is the ordinary of the Church of England The Church of England (C of E) is the State relig ...

1901
* FL Neumann, ''Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism, 1933-1944'' (1944) * FL Neumann, ''The Democratic and the Authoritarian State: Essays in Political and Legal Theory'' (1957) *C Turpin and A Tomkins, ''British Government and the Constitution'' (7th edition, CUP) * S Webb and
B Webb Martha Beatrice Webb, Baroness Passfield, (née Potter; 22 January 1858 – 30 April 1943) was an English sociologist, economist, socialist, labour historian and social reformer. It was Webb who coined the term ''collective bargaining Col ...
, ''
Industrial Democracy Industrial democracy is an arrangement which involves workers making decisions, sharing responsibility and authority in the workplace. While in participative management organizational designs workers are listened to and take part in the decisio ...
'' (1890) * S Webb, ''English Local Government'' (1906 through 1929) Volumes I–X ;Textbooks *AW Bradley, KD Ewing and CJS Knight, ''Constitutional and Administrative Law'' (2018) * H Kelsen, ''Principles of International Law''
1952
*A Le Sueur, M Sunkin and J Murkens, ''Public Law Text, Cases, and Materials'' (3rd edn 2016) *M Elliott and R Thomas, ''Public Law'' (3rd edn 2017) ;Other papers * C Gearty,
Are judges now out of their depth?
(2007) *D Jenkins,
From Unwritten to Written: Transformation in the British Common-Law Constitution
*J McEldowney

(2003) Written evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution. *


External links


The UK constitution - The Constitution Society
consoc.org.uk
What is the UK Constitution? , The Constitution Unit - UCL – University College London
ucl.ac.uk
Britain's unwritten constitution , The British Library
bl.uk *
Cabinet Office - Constitutional Reform

Guardian Special Report – Constitutional Reform

United Kingdom Constitutional Law Association blog on Constitutional Reform

The Constitution Society feature on What is the British Constitution?

LSE - A New UK Constitution

UCL Constitution Unit - About

ESRC Centre on Constitutional Change

Democratic Audit UK

The Parliament and Constitution Centre

Constitutional Law Chronology

Full Constitution of England - Constitute Project

Constitutional Statutes
including discussion of later cases e.g. ''Robinson v Secretary of State for Northern Ireland'' 002UKHL 32, ''BH v Lord Advocate'' 012UKSC 24, ''R (HS2 Action Alliance Ltd) v Secretary of State for Transport'' 014UKSC 3. {{DEFAULTSORT:Constitution of the United Kingdom Government of the United Kingdom Law of the United Kingdom Politics of the United Kingdom Uncodified constitutions