The Nature of a Constitution
- A constitution can be defined as a set of fundamental and statutory principles or conventions that govern a state or other organization.
- It plays a vital role in detailing the powers and functions of the government, defining the structure of various institutions, and delineating the relationship between the government and its citizens.
- A constitution sets forth the framework for how a government is run.
- It outlines the method of electing a government, which ensures democratic principles.
- Constitutions often include human rights protections, which guarantee citizens’ fundamental rights and limits the powers of the government.
Constitutions can be written or unwritten, and flexible or rigid.
- Written constitutions are those where the primary constitutional provisions are condensed in a document.
Unwritten constitutions, like that of the UK, do not exist in a single written document but are drawn from various sources, including statutes, conventions, and case law.
- A flexible constitution can be amended through the ordinary legislative process. The UK’s constitution is flexible.
- In contrast, a rigid constitution requires a special amendment process, often involving supermajority votes or referendums.
- Constitutional conventions are crucial elements of many constitutions. They refer to unwritten rules that dictate how things operate in practice, despite not being legally enforceable.
- Most constitutions embody several key principles such as the rule of law, separation of powers, sovereignty and democracy.
Codified vs Uncodified
- In a codified constitution, the rights of citizens are protected in a definitive legal document.
- An uncodified constitution like that of the UK doesn’t have a single, written document. Instead, it comprises several written and unwritten aspects, including collective statutes, traditions, parliamentary constitutional conventions, and judicial decisions.
By knowing these key terms and principles, you can better understand the pivotal role a constitution plays in the political system and the governance of a nation.