The one important difference that the United Kingdom and a country with a written constitution, is that the UK cannot cite one single document to expound how the state operates. It has to use a variety of sources. The two main different sources of the UK constitution are legal and non-legal sources. Legal sources include the use of statute law, Common Law, European Community Law and Royal Prerogative. Meanwhile non-legal sources include conventions and authoritative writing.
Statute law is the written laws created and approved by legislatures, parliaments or houses of assembly. These Acts may set protections to the citizen or indicate the powers of the state. One example would be the Human Rights Act 1998 protecting the citizen.
Common law is the principle that a precedent on a previous case will have a similar outcome on one with similar facts – this is known as stare decisis. As the decision is binding by the courts and therefore becomes law. One example of this would be in Duport Steel Ltd and others v Sirs and others 1980 which concerns the relationship between parliament and the courts as a union called a strike of its members but the courts has to decide whether the union’s actions were of a trade dispute by the relevant Act. But Lord Diplock sent out the relationship between Parliament and courts as ‘parliament makes the laws; the judiciary interpret them’. Hence, noting that common law is a part of the constitution.
Legislation from the EU which the UK agreed to under the European Communities Act 1972. This adopted many EU regulations and decisions like the free movement of labour across the European Union. However due to Brexit and leaving the European Union this won’t be part of our constitution for much longer as the Great Repeal Bill proposed to turn European Law into UK law.
Royal prerogative consists of special powers within the constitution that the Crown alone is entitled to perform without the needed for consent of the Courts or Parliament. These include the issuing of passports and declarations of war.
A Convention is an established habit or custom that over time has become a binding part of the constitution but not legally enforceable. Example would be that legally the Monarch may choose the Prime Minister, but because of convention it is always the party leader. Another would be the convention that cabinet Government meetings should remain secret and the dissections never enclosed to anybody else. But if anyone does break this, there are no legal consequences to these actions but it would be heavily wrong so.
Lastly, Authoritative writing may be reference within courts to help interpret the law. One famous instance would be the “Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution” by A.C Dicey as this book helped understand the concept “The Rule of Law” as it was set about in his book.
The UK has an un-codified and partially-written constitutional model. This means that the constitution is found of many documents rather than one, like the United States, and that all laws aren’t written down. This model is very similar to that of New Zealand and Israeli. This unorthodox model has many positives and negatives. One such positive is that the model is more flexible and responsive to change as it isn’t written down. This made it easier for the government to drastically reduce gun ownership laws in the UK by the use of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 following the horrific Dumblane massacre the year earlier. Alternatively, the US constitution has the second amendment which states the right to keep and bear arms and as a consequence has proved much harder to restrict. Thus, by having an uncodified and unwritten it has given us greater access to update the law to suit present day and encourages the evolution of the constitution.
One disadvantage is that all the information isn’t contained in one document. This may cause confusion for the public on what their rights and rules are. For instance, with copyright law many people didn’t know that it was illegal to copy a CD or DVD onto another device such as a computer, this is known as shift formatting. As a result, many people who were prosecuted for this reason argued that they weren’t aware it was illegal to do so. This confusion or lack of written rules cost people who were breaking a law they didn’t know. Another, more recent example would be if people had the right to wear a burqa to school. This caused outraged among many Muslim groups arguing it’s a breach of human rights. Although it was decided that it was up to the schools to decide on the ban and that it’s not a breach of human rights. Again, by having these unwritten rules it caused much upset with ethnic minority groups as they felt they were being victimised as there are no clear rules written down or in any of the documents. This brings in another disadvantage of an unwritten constitution as it means that so people’s rights are not protected as seen they can be changed or adapted at any time.
On the other hand, the positive of having an un-codified and partially-written model is that it allows for policies to be pushed through quickly in times of need. For example, the nationalisation of Northern Rock in 2008 which cost the tax payer £3 billion for a short while until the bank would be released again into the public sector however this move was able to help many people who had money with the bank as then they were able to use the emergency money the Bank of England. The use of the model was beneficial to many people not losing their life savings.
All in all, there are many different sources that make up the UK constitution in terms of legal and non-legal sources. And that the constitutional model of the UK has many positives and negatives but in all it works well within the UK.