Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Rabinder Singh QC on the "essential features" of the British constitution

A post to complement the list of 13 constitutional principles set out in Halsbury's Laws.  The following is taken from a lecture delivered by Rabinder Singh QC for Justice in 2010:

"1. [The UK] is a monarchy but a constitutional monarchy, i.e. the nominal head of state does not in practice exercise political power but acts on the advice of Her Majesty’s Government.

2. It is a Parliamentary democracy. This has two components. First the legitimacy of Her Majesty’s Government depends on the ability to command a stable majority in the House of Commons. And secondly, the House of Commons is clearly the dominant chamber in a bi-cameral legislature: if necessary, it can act without the consent of the House of Lords to make laws under the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949.

3. There is an independent judiciary and the government itself is subject to the law. The Rule of Law is a constitutional principle, as section 1 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 describes it, reminding us that we do indeed have a constitution and that it consists of principles.

4. Fundamental human rights are respected. The UK is a party to the European Convention on Human Rights and other international treaties on human rights.

5. The UK is part of the European Union, which has legislative authority over many aspects of social and economic life, and increasingly other parts of public policy. Directly effective EU law is given effect in the domestic legal order without the need for further enactment by section 2(1) of the European Communities Act 1972. In so far as there is any inconsistency between a norm of the domestic legal order and the supranational European legal order, the latter is to prevail, even if the domestic norm is contained in an Act of Parliament and even if that Act was passed after the 1972 Act.

6. The UK has devolved administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland, and also in Scotland, which has a Parliament enjoying wide legislative powers on matters which are not reserved to Westminster."