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"An emphasis upon the differences between the UK and US constitutions neglects their more fundamental similarities." Discuss.

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16.12.2004 "An emphasis upon the differences between the UK and US constitutions neglects their more fundamental similarities." Discuss. The constitution of a state, at its most basic, can be described as the fundamental principles from which it is governed, usually defining how power is split up within it and thereby constructing a framework within which it operates (www.oed.com). In this essay, I will first provide a brief summary of the UK and US constitutions and then attempt to outline the key differences and similarities between the two and discuss whether the differences really do pale in comparison with the fundamental similarities. Queen Elizabeth the 2nd once said, "The British constitution has always puzzled me" (Hennessy, 1996) and this certainly becomes understandable when studying it. The traditional UK constitution is un-codified. This means that it lacks the primary source of a clear written document and is derived solely from four sources- statute law (laws made and passed by the government), common law (legal principles which have been developed and applied by the courts), conventions (rules of behaviour which are considered binding by those who operate the constitution) and works of authority (these are written works used for guidance on aspects of the constitution) (Jones et al., 2004). Statute law has precedence over the other three sources. The traditional constitution is therefore based upon four essential components; 1.parliamentary sovereignty, which makes parliament the supreme law making body and gives it the absolute legal right to make the laws it chooses, 2. ...read more.


In the US, there is certainly a strong sense of attachment by the people to their institutions and constitution which arguably is not as obvious in the UK. The fact that the UK constitution is not a clear document and is derived from different sources may well attribute to this. Other differences are to be found in the flexibility of both constitutions. In the UK, the constitution can be changed by parliament passing a law. In the US amending the constitution is a lot harder, as substantial majorities are needed in Congress and in the individual states to amend the constitution. This is why there have only been 27 amendments in total, with only 17 of them in the last 200 years, an astonishing figure at first sight (Singh, 2003). Although this may seem inflexible, the constitution has been able to adapt to the major changes and developments in the USA over the last 217 years by the 'informal changes' mentioned before. An example of this was seen in the cases dealing with segregation, which the Supreme Court first ruled as being compatible with the constitution (1896) and then ruled as incompatible (1954). Here we see that both the UK and US constitutions are flexible but acquire their flexibility from different sources. Powers are separated differently in both constitutions. ...read more.


One has to say, though, that most of these differences are not in the ideology upon which the constitutions are based but often more on a technical level. For example, it does seem logical that the USA would be a more federal country than the UK due to the sheer size of the place. California, for example, has more than half the population of the UK (www.statistics.gov.uk, www.usgovinfo.about.com). Fundamentally, though, it has to be said that the constitutions are based upon similar ideas. Both, ultimately, are based upon the ideology of democracy, avoiding tyranny and protecting the individual's rights. Most parts of the US Bill of Rights, for example, can be found in various acts passed by the UK parliament, like the 1679 Habeas Corpus act which forbids imprisonment without a trial (www.history.uk.com). The ideological similarities become very clear when one compares either constitution to one of a totally different form of government. An Islamic Republic like Iran, for example, has a constitution which states that "The Islamic Republic is a system based on belief in... the One God ... His exclusive sovereignty and the right to legislate, and the necessity of submission to His commands" (www.iranonline.com/iran/iran-info/Government/constitution-1.htm). This is a huge difference to anything in the UK or US constitution and, coming back to the title of this essay, the fact that there is not such a major difference like this between the two shows that yes, both the US and the UK constitution certainly do have fundamental similarities. ...read more.

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