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Parliamentary Supremacy

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Introduction

The Supremacy of Parliament is still relevant and evident today as it was when A. V. Dicey wrote' the Law of the Constitution' in 1885. Discuss this proposition in light of any developments in the United Kingdom constitution. A.V. Dicey described Parliamentary Supremacy also referred to as sovereignty, in the 'Law of the Constitution, 1885' as meaning; 'Neither more nor less than this, namely, that Parliament thus defined has, under the English constitution, the right to make or unmake any law whatsoever; and further, that no person or body is recognised by the law of England as having a right to override or set aside legislation of Parliament1. From this three rules can be extracted. Firstly, parliament is the supreme law making body and may enact laws on any subject matter; secondly, no parliament may be bound by a predecessor or bind a successor; and finally no person or body, including a court of law may question the validity of parliament's enactments2. If all three rules are apparent within Parliament, then following Dicey's view there is legal sovereignty. Nevertheless, Dicey did acknowledge that Political sovereignty wasn't held by Parliament, but in fact lay 'with the people'3, and that there may be political restraints that inhibit the exercise of parliamentary power.

Middle

However, it has been regarded as 'inapplicable' by some senior judges as in the case of Thoburn v Sunderland City Council (2002)15, when dealing with 'statutes of major political importance', for example the ECA 1972 and the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA 1998)16. There is a debate over the Acts of Union, and their effect on parliamentary sovereignty. Professor JDB Mitchell reflected on Article 1 of the Act of Union with Scotland Act 1706 that stated that England and Scotland will 'for ever after be united'. Mitchell argued that this meant that new parliaments were 'born unfree' as the Acts of Union form a 'higher law' which binds and limits the powers of parliament17. However, the Act of Union with Scotland 1706 has changed several times, in particular through religious pressures. The Protestant Religion and Presbyterian Church Act 1707 has been altered significantly with the introduction of new acts 'to reflect greater religious toleration'18. Similarly the Act of Union with Ireland 1800 was declared to 'last forever', although in 1949 independence was granted to southern Ireland, but the UK retained Northern Ireland as part of 'His Majesty's dominions'19. The third rule that, no person or body, including a court of law may question the validity of parliament's enactment's, essentially means that

Conclusion

However it has become established as a 'yardstick against which all actions of government may be judged'29. Nonetheless, the Act was passed by Parliament, therefore by a simple majority vote it can just as easily be repealed or amended. It would seem that there have been many changes within Parliament that have been said to nullify Dicey's view of Parliamentary Supremacy, such as devolution, the ECA 1972 and HRA 1998. However by looking at the creation of these acts, it is said that as Parliament has signed up to them it can therefore remove itself, legally, clearly following Dicey's first rule that Parliament can make and unmake any law. One of the prerequisites for the devolution of Scotland is that UK Parliament can make law for Scotland, and the Acts of Union, although believed to be binding, have been amended several times, therefore still complying with Dicey's second rule. The HRA 1998 only places an obligation on Parliament, of which there is no legal requirement to follow. Therefore if Parliament legislates contrary to Community Law, the judges have to follow it, thus following Dicey's third rule of Parliament being unquestionable. Conclusively, although Parliamentary supremacy has developed and changed, it is still as legally relevant now as it was when A.V. Dicey wrote 'the law of the constitution' in 1885.

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