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The UK and a codified constitution

AS, A-Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

A codified constitution where the fundamental or basic laws establishing the framework of government are written down, with the major duties, powers and functions of the institutions of government and the rights and duties of individuals codified. An example of a codified constitution is the USA’s constitution, which is a clearly defined constitutional settlement.

The UK’s constitution cannot be found codified in one document, but instead derive from a number of written and unwritten sources. These include accumulated conventions, Acts of Parliament, works of authority, common and EU law. It is increasingly common to hear that the UK's constitution is "becoming more codified" - in reality, more elements are now written, but that is not the same as being more codified.

Arguments for the UK having a codified constitution are that it would clarify the law, help to limit our over-powerful government and help to decentralise power. Arguments against include that, as the USA experience shows, a written constitution doesn’t always clarify the law, it gives too much power to judges, an unwritten constitution enables our political system to involve in response to public demands and changing political circumstances, and that it is attitudes, not words, that defend freedom.

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