constitutional conventions

This will clarify why constitutional conventions are unwritten source of the UK’s constitution and whether they still remain significant today.

We do not have a single authoritative document identifying the principle institutions of the state and the powers held by each; and even where a system has a constitution in this sense; it never offers a complete description of that systems constitutional law. It is not correct, however, to say that the British constitution is “unwritten”. Our constitution is the aggregate of several sources, some written, some not; some legal in character, others non-legal in the sense of not being judicially enforceable or of deriving rather from the realms of legal and political theory 1

Constitution is based on conventions and that in turn those conventions are rules which play a vital role in the constitution although they are not enforced by rules of law. For Dicey, the central significance of constitutional conventions was that they prescribed the manner in which the prerogatives of power the crown (or of ministers or servants of the crown) fell to be excercised.2

Constitutional conventions hold no legal authority and can also be changed. Conventions are always emerging, crystallising and dissolving, and it is sometimes questionable whether a convention has been broken or has simply been changed 3 Constitutional conventions are far from permanent. This is due to the fact it is not created and bound by law. The conventions do not require formal repeal as citizens can simply avoid observing them. As time goes on the constitutional conventions will change along with it too. Dicey had identified two types of constitutional rule.

The one set of rules are in the strictest sense “laws”, since they are rules (whether derived from statue or… the common law) enforced by the courts. The other set of rules consists of conventions, understandings, habits or practises which, though they may regulate the conduct of…officials, are not in reality laws at all since they are not enforced by the courts”4 If there happened to be a disagreement between a convention and the legal rule, the court will always uphold the legal rule. Dicey distinguishes laws from conventions based on whether they can be imposed by the courts not on the level of their status.

Examples of UK constitutional conventions are as follows:  The Queen will not decline royal assent to bills however will always be entitled to do so if she wishes, the house of lords does not decline a bill more than twice from the house of commons and that general elections are to be held on the months of May or November

  1. Munro, J (2007).Public Law. 2nd ed : W Greens. 1.
  2. Munro, J (2007).Public Law. 2nd ed : W Greens. 9-10.
  3. Turpin,C (2002).British Government and the constitution. 5th ed. : Buttersworth. 116.
  4. Dicey, AV (1985).Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution. 10th ed. : Palgrave Macmillan. 23-24.

The on-going debate as to whether constitutional conventions are still significant is today’s day and age is still upon us. It can be observed that people can view it not being significant as the government have bigger issues to deal with other than deciding what month to hold general elections on. As time is passing by society is changing along with it and it can easy to think it is irrelevant to be concerned about such matters. Although, they should remain significant due to the fact society is ever changing and evolving it is still adapting and cooperating with the conventions which leaves it to believe they are not insignificant.

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