A constitution is a legal document that sets out the relationships between the three main institutions of the state, that is to say the executive, the legislative and the judicial power, and that which also guarantees a certain amount of rights for the citizens. In a wider sense, and quoting Bolingbroke, a constitution means an assemblage of laws, institutions and customs, derived from certain fixed principles of reason that compose the general system, according to which the community has agreed to be governed. Nowadays, almost every country in the world has a constitution, that is to say a written document that defines the rules of its political system, but not the United Kingdom. Indeed, the United Kingdom has, what is called an unwritten constitution, that is to say that the English constitution is not contained in one official and legal document called a constitution as in all the other countries, but that the English constitution is in fact contained within a whole set of documents, court judgements, customs, conventions etc. This unorthodox system has been working for now three centuries, without any real and serious crisis, but one can wonder how a political system can work without a written document that defines all the rules to govern, and what makes such an unwritten system work. It will be seen first what are the advantages of such a system, and then in the second part, it will be explained what disadvantages and problems can an unwritten constitution cause.
[...] Written constitutions are in fact as vulnerable as the unwritten ones to those who exercise the power: we clearly saw that in France in the sixties with Charles De Gaulle, who had made a referendum which was a constitutional one but he used the article 11 of the constitution which was about the legislative referendum because it was far more easier. Even though it caused a little scandal and it clearly was unconstitutional Charles De Gaulle did as he wished. [...]
[...] Bibliography Bradley and Ewing: constitutional and administrative law. B.Chantebout: droit constitutionnel et institutions politiques (French book) Neil Papworth: constitutionnal and administrativ law. [...]
[...] It will be seen first what are the advantages of such a system and then in a second part it will be explained what disadvantages and problems can an unwritten constitution cause. The fact that the United Kingdom has no written constitution can seem really odd to many foreigners, who are attached to their written constitution, but it is actually easy to understand. In general the writing of a new constitution results from an important political change: for instance in Germany the current constitution was written in 1948 just after the Second World War and the collapse of the third Reich; in France all the 16 constitutions that existed were written after a change of regime or a political crisis as it was the case during the French Revolution or the collapse of the Second Empire in 1870 etc. [...]
[...] Because such rules are unwritten, all can change in a sudden and that is why many people want to create a written constitution: it is to establish for sure all the rules that govern the country. Thus those rules would be completely effective. There is also the fact that when politicians and constitutionalists try to establish a new constitution, they think about every details, every possibility, it is actually a long process of reflex ion to try to have the best constitution, the most democratic one possible. [...]
[...] Therefore it is undeniable that there may be a wide discrepancy between what is written and what happens in practice. It is clear that the written and unwritten constitutions both have their advantages and disadvantages. And this is so because in reality it is only politics and the persons who are in charge that determine everything. A constitution, written or unwritten, only sets up the general rules, the nature of the regime (presidential or parliamentary) and its main characteristics but it is really the persons in charge that truly determine citizen's rights. [...]
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