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Flashcards in The constitution Deck (10)
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Describe a codified constitution

- Written in one document in a certain point of history.

- Has entrenched laws. These are laws that take a significant amount of effort to amend them. In the US for example, it requires two thirds majority in both the house of representatives and the senate.

- The laws and rights set out in a codified constitution are regarded as supreme and should not be disregarded.


Describe a uncodified constitution

- Written at various points of time in history, not just one point of time.

- Laws are usually not entrenched like in a codified constitution, meaning that laws can be repealed or amended much more easily than in a codified constitution.

- All of what is set out in a uncodified constitution mostly isn't considered as supreme. It can be disregarded.


What are the positives of an uncodified constitution?

- An uncodified constitution is seen as 'organic'. This means the constitution can adapt to a changing world without major upheavals. Thus, when society and its needs or values change, the constitution can automatically do so (by Parliament easily passing legislation)

- It provides strong and accountable government. A party with a majority in the Commons can be a powerful force for social and political change. This gives the executive considerable leverage and the potential to introduce significant reform.

- Conservatives argue that it is simply not necessary - the UK has enjoyed a stable political system without a codified constitution.


Positives of an uncodified constitution - examples

- After the 9/11 attack in 2001, the threat of international terrorism became more acute. Had the UK had an entrenched and codified constitution, it would have been extremely difficult for Parliament to pass a wide range of anti terrorism measures quickly due to too many constitutional constraints. The USA have had greater problems dealing with terrorism as a result of a fixed constitution.

- The Thatcher and Blair governments both enjoyed large majorities and took advantage of this constitutional flexibility. Both were 'transformative' administrations, which introduced far-reaching reforms.

- There is little genuine pressure for a codified constitution outside of few campaign groups like Unlock Democracy. Our constitution has facilitated evolutionary change over a long period while maintaining strong, but accountable government.


What are the negatives of an uncodified constitution?

- A codified constitution would mean better safeguarding of human rights, the ECHR can be overriden by courts for example as the ECHR is not legally binding this way. At present, widely accepted human rights are easily suspended or removed because of parliamentary sovereignity

- Clarity. Having a codifed constitution would be a lot clearer. The UK's uncodified constitution is messy and complicated. Because the codified constitution is located in a single document, it is clear and accessible to all citizens - they can easily refer to and identify with it.

- Limited government. There are many examples of governments elected with only a minority of the popular vote attempting to make profound changes to the UK constitution, for example the Identity Card Act of 2006.


Negatives of an uncodified constitution - examples

- In 2004, nine suspected but not convicted terrorists were held without trial at Belmarsh prison. They appealed to the Lords that their detention without trial run counter to the principle of habeas corpus i.e that the state cannot imprison people without formally charging them and bringing them to trial.

- The Lords ruled that this countered the Human Rights Act. This led to the government introducing the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. Critics argued that the government had been able to dismantle a basic tenet of human rights, namely habeas corpus.


Statute law

- Laws that are passed by Parliament


Common law

- Long established practises



- Traditions and customs


Authoritative works

- Books helping to explain or justify workings of the constitution