1a) Outline the main principles of the Constitution
There are several principles to the constitution, the first being Parliamentary Sovereignty. This is the cornerstone of the United Kingdom’s Constitution, and where before the monarch would have been sovereign, now a democratically elected body has this role. Parliament has absolute power in the country, and there is no higher authority. It is not bound by its predecessor, nor can one Parliament bind a successor. Although it has become weakened by the dominance of the executive, developments with the EU, devolution and referenda, it still remains a fundamental part of the UK Constitution.
Another important principle is Conventions. These are basic practices and traditions considered binding on those to whom they apply, even though this is not legally the case. There are several main constitutional conventions: the first is parliamentary supremacy and sovereignty, whereby Parliament is not subordinate to any institution. Collective Cabinet Responsibility and Individual Ministerial responsibility are also key Conventions, which means that ministers are held accountable for their actions, for example where Lord Carrington the Foreign Secretary apologised to the Foreign Office for invading the Falklands. As well as this, the Monarch’s Royal Assent to legislation passed by Parliament and the maintenance of conventions by the House of Lords are important examples of Constitutional Conventions.
The Royal Prerogative is the principle whereby the Prime Minister has the monarch’s assent to do take several key actions. This means he or she can declare war, make treaties, cede or take possession of territories, issue orders to the armed forces and control the civil service. In addition to this, he has the power to make appointments, such as QUANGOS (Quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations), House of Lords, Archbishop of Cantebury etc, as well as dissolving Parliament for an election. Since Parliamentary authority is not required for the exercise of these powers, they provide the executive with a means of by-passing the legislature.
Penultimately, the Rule of Law is another key principle within the UK’s constitution. AV Dicey a leading 19th Century Constitutional expert saw that the Rule of Law had several elements. For a start, nobody can be punished unless convicted by a court, and courts must be independent and open in its proceedings. For this reason, secret trials cause a problem. The law applies equally to everyone, as David Blunkett found out with the Asylum Seekers case, Princess Anne, whose dogs breached the dangerous dogs act, and the Solicitor General Harriet Harman who was prosecuted for speeding. The general principles of the constitution arise out of decisions made by the judiciary, and the rule of law therefore acts as an important “check and balance”, to parliamentary sovereignty. Indeed the growing frequency of judicial review is evidence that the courts will uphold the rule of law when they believe that the activities of the state have infringed the rights of individuals.