Thursday, January 26, 2012

Salient Features of British Constitution by Zulfiqar Ali Chandio

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1.   Introduction


§         It was in the late 18th century that the word constitution first came to be identified with a single document, mainly as a result of the American and French Revolutions.

§         The British constitution is an unwritten constitution. It is not available on a single document or a book.

§         It has evolved gradually itself through different charters, statutes, precedents, usages and traditions.

§         It has grown like an individual from age to age.

§         It is distinctive from other constitutions of the world by its salient features.

2.   Definition of British Constitution


§         The British Constitution is a complex amalgam of institutions, principles and practices. It is composite of charters and statutes of judicial Decisions of common law, of procedure, usages and traditions. It is not available on one document but hundreds of them. It is not derived from one source but from several…it is child of wisdom and chance.


  • Rules which are true laws, because they are enforced by the courts

                                                                                                            Wade & Phillips

  • The English Constitution has made a great circuit of the globe and has become a common possession of civilized man.


  • British Constitution is the mixture of history & Custom.

Prof. Dicey


3.   Types of Constitution


Ø      Rigid Constitution

Rigid Constitution is difficult to amend or modify by the legislative body.

Ø      Flexible Constitution

Flexible Constitution is easy to amend or modify by the legislative body.



Ø      Written Constitution

Written constitution is that constitution which is codified and all its rules & Principles are available on documents

Ø      Unwritten Constitution

Unwritten constitution is that constitution which is not in a codified form.


4.   Is British Constitution a True Constitution?


  • Where a constitution cannot be produced in a visible form, there is none.

Thomas Paine


  • England the constitution may go on changing continually or rather it does not exist.

Alex De Tecqueville

5.   Division of British Constitution


According to Prof. dicey, the British Constitution consists of two set of different Rules & Principles;


  • Law of Constitution


The one set of Rules is strictly law. It is available either in shape of statute , custom, charter or judge made maxims.


  • The Conventions of Constitution


The second set of Rules consists of the Conventions, Understanding or habits. They are not strictly speaking laws because they all cannot be enforced by the Courts. But these rules and principles are followed by the society as custom or traditions.




Prof. Dicey divided the conventions into two kinds which are as follow,


  • Conventions Enforceable by Courts


The one set of conventions is strictly followed and never violated. In this case, breach of convention leads to the breach of law.


  • Conventions Unenforceable by Courts


The second set of conventions is that which can be violated and it does not amount to be a big crime/offence or unethical act. E.g., if a member of house of lord sits in the house of lord when it holds the meeting as court of appeal. It amounts to be a violation of convention but may be redressed.  


6.   Operation of British Constitution


The British Constitution is operative through following processes/ways,

 Legal (enforceable through Courts of Law)






Non-legal(Not enforceable through Courts of Law)





7.   Legal Consequences of Unwritten Constitution




Ø      Separation of powers

Ø      Division of Tasks between different organs of Government

Ø      Protection of fundamental rights

Ø      Jurisdiction of judiciary is certain

Ø      Avoid arbitrariness of Constitution

Ø      Maintain a level in between Rule of Law and other Constitutional Rules

Ø      Check on the powers of major organs





Ø      Written character is not required for the obedience of Rules of Constitution.

Ø      Flexibility

Ø      Keep changing as required

Ø      Glimpse of Democracy

Ø      Effective Government

8.   Salient Features of British Constitution


1)      Partly Written And Partly Unwritten     


British constitution is an unwritten constitution, as most of the rules and principles controlling the distribution and regulating the exercise of governmental power have never been reduced to writing in a single document.


2)      Custom based rules


Most of the constitutional principles and rules in England have grown by experience.

The English Constitution is a product of many centuries of political growth.



3)      Flexible in Nature


British Constitution can be amended at any time to any extent by a simple action of Parliament.


4)      Evolved not Enacted Constitution


If Constitution means institution and not the paper, which describes them, then British Constitution has not been enacted but has evolved. Looking to all this it may be said that England has a Constitution but of an unwritten type.


5)      Difference of theory and Practice


There is gap between theory and practice under British constitution.

No Law is effective without the consent of Crown. The King is the Commander-in-Chief of all British Forces. The King alone can declare the War and conclude peace Treaties.  But it is just the theory.

In fact, in practice, King/Queen has become only a rubber stamp. Through gradual stages all political powers have shifted from the King to the representatives of people i.e., Parliament.


6)      Unitary Constitution


Under British Constitution, Great Britain ruled through unitary form not federal. All powers of the Government are vested in the British Parliament, which is Sovereign Body. Executive are answerable to the Parliament.


7)      Parliamentary Form of Government


Although King is the sovereign but he deprived of all his powers and ministers who are elected representatives of general public exercise these powers.


8)      Supremacy of Parliament

Parliament is the Supreme Law making body

It has authority to make or amend any law of Great Britain.


9)      Rule of Law


Another exclusive feature of British constitution is Rule of Law

It stresses equality of everybody before law. Govt is also subject of Law.


10)  Role of Conventions


Conventions played vital role to manage the powers of Government organs. They respected by the public as law. These are the rules constitutional morality.


11)  Independence of judiciary.


Even without strict separation of powers between organs of the Government, the judiciary managed to maintain the discipline among the organs of state.


12)  A Bicameral Legislature


It provides two chambers. One is House of Commons and other is House of Lords.


13)  Pleasant amalgamation of kingship with democracy

Mixture of kingdom, peers of the realm and democracy


14)  Ministerial Responsibility

 Ministers are responsible to the parliament for their own acts and the actions of their departments.

15)  Political Parties

9.   Conclusion


British Constitution is the oldest among existing constitution. Its general framework has undergone no revolutionary overhauling for at least the past three centuries with the exception of six years in which Oliver Cromwell served as `The Protector of Common Wealth`.

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