Salient Features of British Constitution


A constitution is a body of rules or laws coming in varied shapes, sizes and formats; determining the organization of Government and the basic principles on which its powers are exercised.
Lord Bryce states:

“The constitution of a state or a nation consists of those of its rules or laws which the determine the form of its government and respective rights and duties of it towards the citizens and of citizens towards Government.”

Mother of all the Constitution:

British constitution is an inspiration to most of the constitution of the world. It is the oldest constitution of the world, that is why it is rightly termed as Mother of all Constitutions.

Organic & Evolutionary Growth:

British Constitution is the result of more than fifteen centuries and it is still growing. It is of an evolutionary growth. It would be very precise to call it a child of wisdom and chance. It has grown gradually and no fixed time or a fixed number of people created it.

This is the most important and most distinguishing feature of it. It is based on Conventions and Customs that have been prevailing from a long time in UK. Such unwritten sources form the major part of the constitution.

There are many Acts, Treaties which are in written form and they make it partly written and even then Non-codified. These were also gradually added and adopted. The first written piece being “Magna Carta 1215”, “Bill of Rights 1689”, “Parliamentary Acts of 1911 & 1949” and so many others.

Difference Between Theory & Appearance:
This is another significant feature of British Constitution. Theory states that no Law is effective without the Assent of Queen, while in practice, Queen must sign all the bills presented to her.
According to Ogg:

“The Government in UK is in ultimate theory an absolute Monarchy, in form a limited constitutional Monarchy and in actual character a Democratic Republic.”

The King in theory has all the powers and can exercise them but in reality he is a mere signatory figure. He works on the advice of Prime Minister. As Walter Bagehot  quotes,

“The British Queen reigns but does not rule.”

Apart disparity between theory and practice, there is also an element of ‘unreality’. Things are not what they look like. There exists a great divergence in its theory.

Nature of Conventions:
Conventions are deeply rooted in the British Constitution. If anyone wants to know the British Constitution, must study the conventions carefully. There are many conventions which are only known to the Cabinet, Judiciary and Parliament. These form the excessive unwritten part and being an important feature are also a major source of Constitution.
1. Prime Minister is chosen from House of Commons.
2. Queen must give her assent to all the bills passed by Parliament.
3. House of Lords benches are red, while House of commons benches are Green.

Flexibility of Constitution:
Though the constitution is not in a proper codified form, it has a great adaptability character. It is very easy to amend and make new laws. It requires a simple majority to pass an amendment. Regardless of its flexibility, there have been a very few changes made till date.

Unitary State:
It is called a Unitary state because there are no units in Britain. All powers are concentrated into one Single central Authority.

It literally means divided into two parts. British Legislative authority, the Parliament is divided as follows:
House of Lords
House of Commons

House of Lords:
It consists of 26 Bishops and Archbishops of Church of England called as ‘Spiritual Peers;. There are 92 Hereditary Peers, 1 Irish Peer, 16 Scottish Peers and several hundred Life Peers.
These are nominated by the Crown on the advice of PM.
House of Commons:
It consists of 650 members elected by citizens of Britain. This house is more powerful than the House of Lords. Money bills can only originate from House of Commons. PM is also selected from House of Commons.

Sovereignty of Parliament:
British Parliament is very powerful and Supreme. Following are the major points that describe it and clarify its character:
1. There is no Law which British Parliament cannot make or undo.
2. No Court can challenge the acts or laws passed by the parliament.
3. It rules the monarch and can decide its fortune and acts.
4. It can prohibit the King to marry a woman of his choice.
5. It can change the hereditary rule of throne by just one simple act.
6. It can abolish monarchy, abolish House of Lords and distribute Powers to its Citizens.
7. It can do anything, except make a man a woman and conversely.

Rule of Law:
It is said that Law is above everyone and applies to everybody. It is a very fundamental concept having following aspects:
All state actions must be authorized. Laws should not be arbitrary.
Laws should be clear, certain and predictable.
The Laws should be applied equally to all, no one is above the Law.
Laws are necessary to provide a standard to measure the action of the state.
Due Process and Access to Justice:
No one should be punished without a trial. It must be a fair trial and held before an independent and impartial tribunal.
This can be viewed by the various Acts of Parliament, judicial decisions and by virtue of common law.

Merger of Powers:
UK is a good example of merger of powers. There are three pillars of its government.
Executive: It is the body which executes Laws, proposes and enforces them. It comprises of the Monarch, Prime Minister.
Legislative: It is the body which makes or amends Law.
Judiciary: It interprets Laws.

In Britain, Executive and Legislative are fused into one and another forming “Cabinet”.
Before 2009, UK could be seen as a complete merger of powers. Now Supreme Court is also established separately in UK. Earlier, Executive the Crown & PM, The Judiciary and the Legislative bodies were combined together in Westminister, Uk.

Blended Constitution:
This is a very unique feature of the British Constitution. It is a mixture of Monarchy, Aristocracy and Democracy.
Monarchy: Due to existence of Crown
Aristocracy: Due to existence of House of Lords
Democracy: Due to existence of House of Commons.

Conservative Nature:
The long driven conventions are a proof of their conservative nature. This has made their Constitution even stronger.

Political Parties:
There are three political parties in Britain. Labor, Conservatives and the Liberal-Democrats. Conservatives and Liberal-Democrats have together formed a coalition government currently.

Rights of Citizen:
Britain has recognized broad liberties to its citizens. These fundamental Rights are embodied in Bill of Rights 1689.

Element of Adjust ability:
Adaptability and Adjust ability of the British Political Institutions are remarkable traits of her political life. Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism, Absolute Monarchy to Constitutional Monarchy and from a Police State to a Welfare State have been peaceful and Gradual.



90 thoughts on “Salient Features of British Constitution

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    • King is an institution i.e. the Crown. So that is why he cannot do any wrong. Secondly, the maxim rose when 7yr old *King Henry III* was made the British King. He was a minor and a minor can do no wrong. The King is literally above the law and cannot do wrong by definition.
      Even if the king’s actions are not lawful by definition, there is no remedy for the king’s actions through the courts. The King is eminently capable of doing wrong but cannot do so lawfully.




    • Monarchy is a governmental system in UK, Crown is the institution of King. King is a person while Crown is the institution of Monarchy. All legislation is made for Crown which the beholder (King) has to follow. That is why it is said “King is dead, Long live the King”. Because a King may die but Crown will not.


  10. thanks for sharing,
    can you please guide that why UK constitution is Unreal and what is the impact of unreality on British society.


    • Unreality can be better described as ‘Disparity between what is said and what is happening’. Monarchy is described as supreme authority while in reality it posses few powers only.


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