Parliamentary Sovereignty

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Parliamentary Sovereignty
What is meant by a ‘constitution’?
In relation to legal systems and governments a constitution is the set of principles
that determines the nature and powers of a government. Constitutions describe
three things:
1.
2.
3.
There are three broad principles underlying the constitution. These are:
1. Separation of powers
2. The rule of law
3. The supremacy of parliament – also called parliamentary sovereignty
Separation of Powers
As we have seen previously a key concept in the government of England and Wales
is the separation of powers. This is based on the French philosopher, Montesquieu,
and his theory that the powers of the state could be divided into three types:
1.
2.
1
3.
These functions should be exercised by a different person or group – known as
separation of powers to avoid the concentration of power into the hands of a single
person or group.
The Rule of Law
Crucial to a separation of powers is obedience to established laws by both citizens
and all organs of the state. The principle of the rule of law has three elements:
1.
2.
3.
The Supremacy of Parliament
Definition:
2
The Position in Other Countries
In many countries, e.g. the USA, the legislature is limited by the Constitution in
the laws it can or cannot make.
The U.S. Supreme Court can declare laws passed by the legislature to be
unconstitutional and therefore invalid
UK Position
The traditional view in the UK is that

Parliament is not subject to any legal limitation and

the UK courts have no power to declare laws duly passed by Parliament
invalid
According to the 19th century constitutional expert A.V. Dicey (Law of the
Constitution, 1885) there are four elements to parliamentary sovereignty:
1.
2.
3.
4.
3
Theoretically then Parliament is able to make laws on any subject and is the
highest source of English law. Parliament however cannot make a law that cannot be
later repealed (voted out).
There are however now a number of limitations on Parliamentary Sovereignty which
means that the old idea of an all powerful Parliament is no longer valid.
Limitations
1. Europe
2. The House of Commons
3. The Human Rights Act (See separate handout)
4
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