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What are the four distinct territories that make up the United Kingdom?

1. England
2. Wales
3. Scotland
4. Northern Ireland


What are the three distinct legal systems in the UK?

1. England and Wales
2. Scotland
3. Northern Ireland


What does it mean to say the UK has traditionally been a unitary state?

In the UK, power has long been concentrated in the hands of one body - Parliament at Westminster (the sovereign lawmaker, from which the UK government is formed, to which it is responsible, and on whose support it relies).


What did N Walker say about the idea of Unitarianism?

‘Unitarianism, in short, means the concentration of the strength of the state in the hands of one visible sovereign power’


What are the three governmental powers exercised by the state?

1. Legislative Power
2. Judicial Power
3. Executive Power


What is legislative power?

The power to make the rules that individuals and groups in society are expected to follow.


What is judicial power?

The power to interpret and apply these rules to make sure they are being followed.


What is executive power?

Putting policies into practice, carrying out administrative tasks, maintaining order, representing the state on the international stage. Basically, running the country.


What did Lord Mustill say in the Fire Brigades Union Case on the exercise of the various governmental powers?

He said - 'It is a feature of the peculiarly British conception of the separation of powers that Parliament, the executive and the courts have each their distinct and largely exclusive domain. Parliament has a legally unchallengeable right to make whatever laws it thinks right. The executive carries on the administration of the country in accordance with the powers conferred on it by law. The courts interpret the laws, and see that they are obeyed.’


Is Lord Mustill's position on the allocation of governmental powers an overly simplistic one?

Arguably yes, see the separation of powers resources - the various functions perhaps don't fit so neatly within the jurisdiction of each of the branches of government.


What is the role of Parliament in the UK?

1. The primary lawmaker in the UK.
2. Enacts primary legislation - the supreme source of law in the UK
3. Central to the process of forming a government, and in holding it to account (through the operation of conventions)


What is the composition of Parliament?

It is formed of two chambers:
1. The House of Commons - made up of MPs elected by the public, voting for someone to represent their constituency.
2. The House of Lords - made up of the 'Lords Spiritual' - important church leaders - and the 'Lords Temporal' - influential landowners. Members are not elected but rather membership is passed through family lines through 'Hereditary Peerage'.


How is election to the House of Commons conducted?

Elections use the First Past the Post system (the single candidate with the most votes in their constituency wins, and gains a seat in the House of Commons). This system is often criticised on the grounds of disparity between the overall number of votes gained by a Party, and the amount of seats - and therefore power - gained.


How has the influence and composition of the House of Lords changed over time?

Various reforms throughout the 20th century have resulted in the House of Lords' power being diminished (see Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 limiting its power of veto over Bills passed by the Commons), and its membership has been changed (House of Lords Act 1999 removed most hereditary peers - reducing number to 92). Members are now generally appointed under the Royal Prerogative (in practice by the Prime Minister, sometimes on the recommendation of The House of Lords Appointment Commission).


What is the role of the executive?

1. Administering policies - putting the laws into action.
2. Have taken over the remnants of Royal power - through conventions surrounding their exercise of the Royal Prerogative.


What is the composition of the executive?

The executive is formed of various agencies;
1. Central government - the Prime Minister, Cabinet - formed of senior Ministers who lead various departments made up of teams of other, less senior, Ministers
2. The Civil Service - a permanent and politically neutral body serving the policies of the Government of the day, and responsible to Ministers
3. Local government (Councils), the police, tax authorities and many, many, more...


How does the composition of the executive undermine the idea of accountability to Parliament?

A vital role often attributed to Parliament is to hold the Government to account, and to scrutinise their actions. How effective can this be if, given the way the Government is formed they, by definition, have the support of the majority of the House of Commons? Is the House of Commons, in practice, merely an obedient lapdog of the Government, as some suggest, or does it sometimes bite and keep them in their place?


How does the PM have influence over the composition of the executive?

The Cabinet, and other Ministers are appointed, again, legally by the Queen, but by convention, the "recommendations" of the Prime Minister are accepted. So in effect they are appointed (and dismissed) by the Prime Minister.


What is the role of the judiciary?

They have the role of interpreting and applying the law, including through judicial review of executive action.


What is the structure or composition of the judicial branch?

The Court system is a hierarchy, ranging from Magistrates and Crown Courts all the way up to the Appellate Courts - High Court, Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court.