Why Britain Needs a Written Constitution?

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The United Kingdom is considered a constitutional monarchy, although the constitution is not codified. It consists of laws, precedents, and legislative customs, which are used to form state organs and regulate their cooperation and communication with citizens. There is an opinion that Britain does not need a document which would serve as the basic law for the nation. However, there are opponents to this viewpoint, who claim that the existing constitutional system is unsuitable for a modern country, and that is why the UK needs a written constitution, which most European countries have. The arguments provided by constitution supporters are more convincing than the opposite ones.

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Before discussing arguments, it is necessary to consider why a nation needs a constitution. According to Clements, its main purposes are “to limit the power of the government… to protect the rights or liberties of the individual” (Clements, 2015: 5). It means that the basic law serves as a guarantee of the optimal balance between the citizen and groups, having political and financial power. In fact, the constitution is the chief instrument to protect the individual from tyranny and arbitrariness. Usually, this document regulates the division of state organs into three branches, namely legislative, executive, and judicial. If one’s rights are violated, he or she should, first of all, address the constitution. No other act can contradict the principles, stated by the basic law.

To support the point of view that the British need such a document, one can provide many convincing arguments. All of them result from the ideas, presented in the previous paragraph. Firstly, as the constitution is the basis for the state system and government-citizen relations, its principles should be contained in one document. According to Aguilera-Barchet, it is “a product of consensus” (Aguilera-Barchet, 2014: 705). That is why this document should be brief and contain only the essential points on which all the subsequent laws will be based. It does not need to include details but merely the fundamental principles of state building and functioning. When a constitution is a single book of several pages, every citizen can easily use it and operate it in court. However, in Great Britain one has to spend a considerable period to look through all the documents, substituting for the constitution, to understand what arguments to use as a defense from arbitrariness. That is the first reason why a written basic law is necessary for Great Britain.

Secondly, one should understand that many of the laws, constituting the British ‘constitution,’ are outdated. According to Browning, even the significant historical document Magna Carta, which has been one of the British legal system’s cornerstones for eight hundred years, contains points that are incompatible to the present-day realities, such as “clauses… about fish traps in the Thames” (Browning, 2015: 1). Officially, such clauses and laws are still in operation. It means that, theoretically, they may be put into practice. However, judges and citizens realize that doing it would be an absurdity. Thus, it would be logical to exclude these points from the constitutional system. The best way to do it is to work out a brief and laconic written constitution, which will contain only actual points.

Thirdly, the imperfectness of the existing constitutional system gives a lot of loopholes to corrupted politicians, who use weak places in the law to reach their unlawful purposes. Having considered the problem of corruption in the Parliament, Greene concludes that the British society should “re-affirm the fundamental principles of our constitution” (Greene, 2017: 53). However, the best way to do it is not to abolish and reject the modern law but to create a constitution that will work effectively. Further on, all existing lawful acts should be gradually reconsidered in accordance with the new basic legal document.

Fourthly, a written constitution would become a basis for combating power abuse. Discussing the present-day British legislative system, Sol states that “in the American system, it is the Constitution that is sovereign – not the government” (Sol, 2016: 74). It means that the country’s basic law is above all the authorities. Everyone has to obey the constitution, from an ordinary citizen to a member of parliament, that is why most civilized countries have chosen the constitutional way of development. It makes a written constitution necessary in the modern world of democracy and the rule of civil rights.

Fifthly, public opinion polls, according to Blick, say that a significant number of the British think that the legislative system the UK “could be improved quite a lot” (Blick, 2015: 129). It means that the existing model is inconvenient in use and unsuitable for many. The polls, which show this, are held once in several years among representatives of different social layers, and the government should consider this viewpoint.

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However, according to Blick,, there are political forces which oppose radical changes (Blick, 2015: 79). According to their opinion, the reformation will need a lot of money from the budget. On the other hand, according to the opponents of a written constitution, such a measure will cause no real change as it will merely summarize the existing constitutional customs. Although this point of view is not deprived of logic, it is not grounded enough as the clearer the law, the more convenient it is in use. Moreover, the longer the passing of a necessary act is delayed, the more expensive and difficult the process of adoption will be.

Having discussed all these points, one should conclude that there are a lot of persuasive arguments for creating and implementing a written constitution. Firstly, the basic law of the country should be concentrated in one document. Secondly, outdated acts should be excluded from the legislative system. Thirdly, a written constitution will help get rid of loopholes, used by dishonest politicians, and prevent power abuse. Finally, a considerable number of citizens admit the need for legislative changes. On the first stages, implementing a written constitution may be costly for the budget, but all probable expenses are justified by the document’s unquestionable advantages.

References

Aguilera-Barchet, B. (2014). A history of western public law: Between nation and state. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.

Blick, A. (2015). Beyond Magna Carta: A constitution for the United Kingdom. Oxford, England: Hart Publishing Ltd.

Browning, G. (2015). The British constitution: First draft. London, England: Atlantic Books Ltd.

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Clements, R. (2015). Public law (8th ed.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Greene, B. (2017). The British constitution and the corruption of parliament: The Candour writings of Ben Greene. London, England: The A.K. Chesterton Trust.

Sol, C. (2016). “Exploring the Magna Carta and governmental immunity doctrines: The view from the United States.” In E. Gibson-Morgan & A. Chommeloux (Eds.), The rights and aspirations of the Magna Carta (pp. 65-89). Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

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