The UK Constitution is uncodified, and is rooted from many different sources of law and authority. These many roots have different status and questionable importance. Firstly, there is Statute Law, the written laws and acts of parliament; common law is the series of laws based on traditions and long established practices – these can be seen as out-of-touch, but also imprecise and difficult for judges to base decisions on. Similarly, conventions are the key unwritten and non-legal elements to constitution; many are only upheld for practical reasons, and have no specific strength against written laws. Many items of literature by classical authors have been seen as particularly significant and with enough authority to be interpreted as a root of British Constitution, though don’t have specific legal binding force. Much of the UK’s constitution has been directed from EU laws and treaties, inflicted by EU authority over our national government.Statute Law is law made my Acts of Parliament, and generally statutes are said to be more important than cases in law making. As a formal, written legislation, one can argue that statute laws are the most important root of constitution. If statute conflicts with a common law or convention, it is the statute law that prevails. No statute can remain permanent, as any parliament can repeal the laws of its predecessors. This can be seen as an advantage of statute law, as it is the organic flexibility and dynamism to react to changing political and social situation that makes the UK Constitution more effective. This contrasts to a codified constitution that cannot allow for such easy change.
However, this can equally be seen as a disadvantage to statute law. The ability for constitution to be rewritten prevents a document such as a declaration of rights and liberties from existing. The United States has a Bill of Rights, a standard series of freedoms and liberties of the common man, and no law can conflict with it. It allows the core values and rights to be upheld despite Government authority. Statute law cannot allow this. The UK Bill of Rights from 1689 has largely been repealed and replaced. How can statute law be the most important, despite its authority over common law and convention, if it cannot uphold its values permanently? The purpose of a constitution is surely to be a long-lasting declaration of common values. Law may be organic, but the protection of rights is key.
Currently within the UK, the section of the constitution that holds firm our rights is EU Law. The UK only holds partial power within Europe, and this is steadily reducing, and the EU Convention of Human Rights is the equivalent to the United States’ Bill of Rights. It remains firm, and while is may be amended, no single Government can wreak havoc and wield extraordinary power. EU Law overrides the power of statute law, and we can see EU Law replacing large volumes of statutes relating to trade and commerce. EU bodies have power over national parliamentary bodies, and the UK has to veto to EU decisions. Arguably, the strength and power of the EU and its ability to impose treaties and laws makes it a more important root of UK constitution?
But is the EU really as powerful as it appears? Any loss of parliamentary sovereignty in joining the European Commission is really the choice of parliament. The government tolerates EU power, as it feels there are benefits of being part of the EU. One could argue the UK could leave the European Union at any time, but it could be economically damaging or politically impossible.
It is important to note that the term important is an ambiguous one. It is very difficult to compare the different aspects of the UK’s constitution. In terms of power and authority, surely the power of the EU and other supranational international bodies will take stage. International declarations and conventions must be followed, and no government decision may overturn them – though, in the case of the EU, one could ignore convention by leaving the European Union at risk of political flak. Does importance refer to the effect each form of constitution has had on the lives and welfare of the public? In this sense, many statute laws have made significant impact over the last 800 years, from the Magna Carta to the House of Lords Reform. Perhaps important refers to the ability we have to change the constitution, and improve the system of government. In this situation again, statute law by means of parliamentary decision is the most significant way of adapting the constitution to the current political and social climate. Does importance lie with tradition and age – convention and common law – or with an ability to organically adapt? For this reason, although statute law is clearly significant, no real conclusion can arise as a means of quantifying constitutional importance.