In the United Kingdom we have an ‘unwritten’ constitution, meaning that it is not codified into a distinct format. It is a series of Acts and customs, which together form how the British people accept that this country should be governed.
The predominant current belief is that Parliament is sovereign. This is stated on Parliament’s website. This is not specifically stated in the constitution, though. It derives from the Bill of Rights 1688, which is quoted below as saying essentially that the monarch can’t act without the consent of Parliament.
I subscribe to a belief in popular sovereignty, or sovereignty of the people. Since the people elect the MPs, and the MPs are ultimately answerable to the people, I see the people as being sovereign. In order to make this perspective effective in reality, more direct democracy should be enabled. As I have written in my manifesto, we should have referendums on any change that would impact the UK constitution.
Acts currently in the UK Statute Book that are considered by Professor of Constitutional Law Robert Blackburn to represent the constitution of the United Kingdom are listed below in chronological order.
Magna Carta 1297
Most of Magna Carta has been repealed. One of the three remaining sections puts into law the practice of trial by jury:
XXIX Imprisonment, &c. contrary to Law. Administration of Justice.
NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor [condemn him,] but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.
Another section of Magna Carta that is still active assures the general practice of free trade, and simultaneously assures the ‘old Liberties and Customs’ of the City of London:
IX Liberties of London, &c.
THE City of London shall have all the old Liberties and Customs [which it hath been used to have]. Moreover We will and grant, that all other Cities, Boroughs, Towns, and the Barons of the Five Ports, and all other Ports, shall have all their Liberties and free Customs.
The Petition of Right 1627
This Act assured no taxation without representation:
They doe therefore humblie pray your most Excellent Majestie, that no man hereafter be compelled to make or yeild any Guift Loane Benevolence Taxe or such like Charge without comon consent by Acte of Parliament…
It also forbade the exercise of martial law, referencing Magna Carta (the Great Charter):
…it is declared and enacted that no man should be forejudged of life or limbe against the forme of the Great Charter and the Lawe of the Land…
Bill of Rights 1688
This Act established that no law could be suspended or enacted without Parliament’s consent:
…the pretended Power of Suspending of Laws or the Execution of Laws by Regall Authority without Consent of Parlyament is illegall.
It also made it illegal for a standing army to be maintained in times of peace without the consent of Parliament:
…the raising or keeping a standing Army within the Kingdome in time of Peace unlesse it be with Consent of Parlyament is against Law.
As a result of this section continuation orders relating to the current Armed Forces Act must be passed annually. They allow the armed forces to exist by extending the validity of the current Armed Forces Act. The Armed Forces Act is updated every five years.
The Bill of Rights also prohibited cruel and unusual punishment:
…excessive Baile ought not to be required nor excessive Fines imposed nor cruell and unusuall Punishments inflicted.
Act of Settlement 1700
This Act was passed to ensure that the Crowns of England and Ireland would only be passed to protestants.
It also made the statement that:
…the Laws of England are the Birthright of the People…
Judicial independence was assured by this act. The section assuring judicial independence was later repealed and substantially similar text inserted into the Senior Courts Act 1981:
A person appointed to an office to which this section applies shall hold that office during good behaviour, subject to a power of removal by Her Majesty on an address presented to Her by both Houses of Parliament.
Simply put, as long as judges behave themselves they can’t be removed.
Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949
The Parliament Act 1911 allowed under certain circumstances Bills to be passed without the consent of the House of Lords. Additionally, it replaced the House of Lords’ ability to veto Bills with the ability to delay Bills for 2 years. It also set the maximum time for which a parliament could exist to 5 years. This stipulation was transferred to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.
The Parliament Act 1949 decreased the time for which the House of Lords could delay a Bill to 1 year.
Representation of the People Acts
The first constitutionally significant of these Acts was the Representation of the People Act 1918, which extended universal suffrage to men over 21 and allowed women over 30 who met certain criteria to vote. This Act has been repealed and replaced by subsequent Representation of the People Acts.
The current act that contains the legislation that determines who is eligible to vote is the Representation of the People Act 1983, which says:
A person is entitled to vote as an elector at a parliamentary election in any constituency if on the date of the poll he—
(a) is registered in the register of parliamentary electors for that constituency;
(b) is not subject to any legal incapacity to vote (age apart);
(c) is either a Commonwealth citizen or a citizen of the Republic of Ireland; and
(d) is of voting age (that is, 18 years or over).
European Communities Act 1972
This Act made the United Kingdom a member of the European Economic Community by affirming the declaration set out in the Treaty of Accession 1972, which states:
The Kingdom of Denmark, Ireland, the Kingdom of Norway and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland hereby become members of the European Economic Community and of the European Atomic Energy Community and Parties to the Treaties establishing these Communities as amended or supplemented.
The European Communities Act 1972 is due to be repealed on 31 October 2019 as stipulated in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 s.20(1) (as amended). If the withdrawal agreement is voted into law by Parliament the European Communities Act 1972 can be repealed before 31 October 2019. It is to be repealed because the UK electorate voted to leave the European Union in a national referendum on 23 June 2016.
Scotland Act 1998
This Act established the devolved parliament in Scotland.
Government of Wales Act 1998
This Act established the Welsh Assembly.
Northern Ireland Act 1998
This Act provided for the implementation of the Belfast Agreement, which stipulated that a Northern Ireland Assembly be created. The Belfast Agreement also affirmed Northern Ireland as being part of the United Kingdom, while assuring that it maintained a strong relationship with the Republic of Ireland.
Human Rights Act 1998
This Act affirmed the authority of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in the UK. It assured Parliament’s Sovereignty by giving UK courts the ability make a declaration of incompatibility if a provision of primary UK legislation was incompatible with a right set out in the ECHR. Making this declaration would not affect the validity of the UK primary legislation in question.