What is a constitution?
In most countries the state is divided between the Judiciary (the courts), Parliament (the legislature) and the Government (the executive). It is in a country’s constitution that we will find the broad principles of a state, and what the main institutions of that state are. The constitution also details who can make laws in that country, and the processes that need to be followed when making laws in that country.
For law students, it might be useful to see the constitution as superior law. It is this superior law, the constitution, which states that the courts cannot do A nor B and that Parliament cannot do A nor B.
It sets out principles which the main institutions must follow. It also allocates power between the main institutions of a state. Additionally, it states how the main institutions are to interact with each other and how they are to interact with individual citizens.
The three main principles that underpin the English legal system are Parliamentary Sovereignty, Rule of Law and Separation of Powers.
Does Britain have a constitution?
Most countries have a written constitution. This means there is a written codified document which details the main institutions of the country. It is this document that will indicate which institutions have power and what type of power they hold.
In England there is no such one document with a codified documentary of what the Government, Parliament and the Judiciary can and cannot do. Because there is no such one document, you will hear your law lecturer and tutor say that in England there exists a constitution, but that this constitution is unwritten.
So, if there is no one document with a codified constitution, and there is a constitution and it is unwritten, where is the constitution? How do we know what Parliament can and cannot do? How do Parliament and the courts know how to interact, and how do we know the limits of their powers? Where is the UK’s constitution? In other words, what are the sources of our constitution?
So, what are the sources of the constitution?
Our constitution is scattered in different sources. Some of these sources include Acts of Parliament, cases from the courts, conventions and the European Union.