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Do constitutions really matter?

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Do constitutions really matter? A constitution sets out the formal structure of government specifying the powers and institutions of central government. It also defines the balance between Central and other levels of government. A constitution will specify the rights of citizens, therefore creating limits of duties for the government. Nations need and use constitutions in order to help them put the workings of government into practise, whether it is a codified or uncodified constitution. Many factors, social and economic as well as the countries political culture affect whether a constitution will work and therefore matter to that country. 'The age of constitutions was initiated by the enactment of the first written constitutions, the US constitution in 1787and the French Declaration of Rights of Man and citizens in 1789'. There are several different types of classifications. Although every constitution is a blend of written and unwritten rules, the balance between them varies. This is why the classifications of codified and uncodified came about. Within these classifications, different definitions have come about as well. A codified constitution is itself authoritative in that it constitutes the higher law. It binds all political institutions and establishes a hierarchy of laws. The US constitution was the first written constitution, consisting of just 7000 words, outlining the broad principles and so lays down a loose framework of government. Originally the US constitution was silent on many points, which subsequently have had to be clarified by judicial interpretation. In many Western European Countries, for example France and Germany, constitutions act as state code in which the powers of and relationships between political institutions are specified in detail. ...read more.


The relationship between the executive and the assembly is the key. In parliamentary systems, the executive, is derived from and is accountable to the assembly, whereas in a Presidential system, the two branches of government are independent, based on the separation of powers. Finally, pluralist constitutions can be compared to monopolistic ones, with pluralist ones; ensuring political power is evenly dispersed, through guarantees of participatory rights and party competition. Whereas monopolistic constitutions are more commonly found within communist states where the authority of the ruling party or leader is unquestionable. As almost all countries have constitutions, some organised groups and most institutions do have some sort of rules that have a constitutional effect. However, constitutions must serve a purpose in order to survive and be respected within a nation. They serve a number of purposes or functions and are used in a variety of ways. Firstly, they empower states. This means that they mark out the existence of the state and make claims concerning their sphere of independent authority. When creating new states, it can be said that they don't really come into existence until they have a constitution, since without one, they lack formal jurisdiction. The American Declaration of Independence in 1776 initiated the process through which the USA achieved statehood, but wasn't complete until the US constitution was ratified in 1789. This can be said of the 'constitution' of the EU, which comprises treaties and agreements such as the Treaty of Rome and the Maastricht Treaty, which authorises the EU to intervene in various ways in the affairs of the EU's members. ...read more.


The UK's uncodified constitution also provides unusual scope for abuse. It relies heavily on the Government of the day's self-restraint. However in the 1980's and 90's, the Conservative government was seen to have exploited the flexibility of Parliamentary Sovereignty, in order to alter the constitutional roles of the Civil Service and Local Government. Finally, the adaptability of a constitution to remain relevant in changing circumstances is important if a constitution is to matter to a nation. Most constitutions don't reflect political realities. Therefore, constitutions have to be sufficiently flexible to accommodate change within a broad and relevant framework. The US government was able to evolve because of its broad set of principles. Because they are broad principles, it gives them scope to be interpreted by the judiciary in order to keep them relevant, and because of this, it has provided the US constitution the scope to rectify its own deficiencies. Therefore allowing a document created over 200 years ago to still remain relevant and reflect the political culture of America and have the respect of the population. In a world where it is seen that executives are becoming increasingly more powerful over legislatures, the power of uncodified constitutions to ensure limited government is uncertain. It was already seen that the Executive in Britain was making constitutional changes, affecting peoples civil liberties in the 1990's so the future doesn't look promising for them. However, there is definite certainty that the codified constitution will still have a role to play, ensuring political, social and cultural values are upheld, as well as protecting the rights of the people and ensuring limited government. RACHEL SAFIR ...read more.

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