A UK Bill Of Right

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A UK Bill Of Right’s? Essay, Research Paper Budge et al (1998, p.177) defines a constitution as ‘enshrining in law the rights and duties of citizens and the functions and powers of the state and its major branches….´ In most countries throughout the world this constitution takes the form of an actual written document typically written on vellum with an official seal. An example is the well-known US Bill of Rights created in 1788 following independence from the British crown. However, Britain is one of the few countries in the world where the constitution takes an unwritten form. Instead, it is comprised of Acts of Parliament, treaties, common law and European law, amongst others. This would seem to many to be somewhat disorganised and haphazard, but up until the mid

twentieth century, Britain´s constitution was seen as a unique feature of the strong, yet flexible government which has taken Britain through two world wars and several periods of internal strife (Budge et al 1998, p.177). However, in the past few decades, issues such as Northern Ireland and devolution to Scotland and Wales have led to calls for an extensive review of Britain´s constitution. Many are calling for it to be reviewed with an eye to implementing a clearer, written example along the lines of America´s Bill of Rights. Therefore, this essay will take the form of a critical evaluation of the arguments for and against the UK having a fully codified Bill of Rights. The first section will be dedicated to an assessment of the pro-reformists´ arguments with the second

section assessing the anti-reformists´ points of view. Those that argue that the British constitution is in need of change have picked out three general features that highlight its alleged inadequacy. These are that it is indeterminate, indistinct and unentrenched (Finer et al 1995, p.40). The accusation that the constitution is indeterminate stems from the fact that there are 170 combined Acts of Parliament according to HM Stationary Office. Any number of these Acts may be interpreted by the individual as being part of Britain´s constitution. There is therefore no authoritative selection of statutes, conventions and common laws which would comprise the ‘constitution´. The second problem with Britain´s constitution according to Finer et al is that of an indistinct

structure. Within UK law there is no device to signal the supremacy of constitutional law over ‘ordinary´ law, a situation repeated in the case of a convention being broken. It is said that what is needed is an independent constitutional court resembling the US Supreme Court which would allow cases involving constitutional legislation to be heard with appropriate consideration. The third problem, that of the constitution being unentrenched, is in essence the lack of any formal requirements for enacting or amending constitutional law. This means constitutional legislation in the UK can be altered or revoked in the same way as any other statute. A fair point considering the possibility, however small, of a radical government coming to power with a significant majority. The three

points previously mentioned are general problems many have with the British constitution as it stands. In the following section two specific arguments for a ‘Bill of Rights´ will be detailed and assessed. Ever since the Scottish Parliament was established, its constitutional relationship with Westminster has come under increasing scrutiny. The pro-reformists argue that the relationship is not nearly clear enough,. Jowell and Oliver (1989) illustrate this using a hypothetical future situation. If a large SNP majority was to be elected to power intent on provoking rifts with Westminster, any legislation passed by them that was detrimental to non-Scottish residents of the UK would be perfectly legal in the eyes of the courts. This is due to a lack of constitutional criteria