A unconstitutional. The UK’s range of sources shows,

A constitution is a set of ‘rules and principles that govern an organization.’1 They can be ‘written’ or ‘unwritten’ (or more precisely codified and uncodified), flexible or rigid, and unitary or federal. The UK constitution is an example of an uncodified constitution and the US constitution is an example of a codified constitution. This essay will examine the differences between a codified and uncodified constitution, bringing to light the advantages and disadvantages of both, to help form the conclusion that to codify the UK constitution is not as ‘important’ as it is ‘often made out’ and is not the best option for constitutional reform.   What is meant by codified and uncodified? A codified constitution ‘provides a clear, accessible and coherent account of the body of fundamental rules and principles according to which the state and society are constituted and governed’2 and can be found written in a single document. It is seen as the highest form of law therefore binding over all political institutions, including ordinary law. They are entrenched, meaning they require a difficult and long process to amend or abolish. As they are set out in one single document, they have the advantage of clarity on functions, powers and duties of different aspects of the government. An uncodified constitution on the other hand cannot be found in one single document, but rather across a range of sources, i.e. legislature, common law, conventions etc. It carries the same status as ordinary law, having no binding effect, meaning it is not entrenched and therefore can be easily changed or abolished through the normal law making process. As there is no higher law, judges do not have a legal standard to which they can make judgments on whether other bodies’ actions could be considered constitutional or unconstitutional. The UK’s range of sources shows, to some extent, aspects of the constitution are technically ‘written’ down, and sources like conventions are more based on behaviours. A convention is a political behaviour that develops over time to solve constitutional political and legal problems. They are purely political and not legally binding, but are an example of an aspect of the constitution that is not ‘written down’ in its ‘entirety’.   One of the biggest arguments from those who are pro-codification of the UK constitution is that ‘codification would provide a clearer, more accessible set of constitutional arrangements’3 making it easier to refer to when someone’s constitutional legality comes into question. The need for clarity in a constitution is seemingly an issue a lot of people believe an uncodified constitution needs reform on, therefore ‘collecting together the fundamental rules in a single place might make it easier for people to understand’4. The roles of the different parts of the government will also be expressly defined and restrained preventing wrongful interpretations leading to corruption and injustice, making the separation of powers less ambiguous.   This leads to another popular argument which is that codification will put tighter restrictions on the government, limiting their power and cutting it down in size. Codifying the constitution would effectively end Parliamentary sovereignty and the ability the government possess in being able to act in any way they deem necessary as long as they can maintain control of the House of Commons. It would no longer be possible for the government to interfere with the constitution due to the existence of a codified document that is acknowledged as the highest form of law.    A third argument to show that codifying the UK constitution is the ‘best option for constitutional reform’ is the secure protection of basic rights that everyone has. It can be argued that there is ‘no point in having a constitution unless it was in some sense ‘fundamental’; that is, more difficult to change than an ordinary law’5. UK constitutionally significant legislature can be altered and removed using the same process as ordinary law, therefore hindering the significance it should hold as being part of our constitution.  In light of these arguments, a codified constitution may be the best option for constitutional reform in the UK because of the benefits of having all the key principles in one document such as clarity, limited government power and secure protection of basic right.   However, those who are for keeping the constitution uncodified also have some strong and valid arguments. The first, and in my own opinion, the most important factor in keeping the constitution uncodified is the ‘great virtue of flexibility’6 which allows the government to adapt the constitution to suit the needs of a more modern society with ‘relative ease’7. As stated above a codified constitution is the highest form of law, therefore is entrenched, meaning a longer, more difficult process to amend or abolish out-dated constitutional principles. Since there are ‘no entrenched provisions, provisions that require some special procedure if they were to be changed’8, parliament, although seen as a negative to uncodified constitutions, can create, abolish and amend any laws it wishes, which is thought to be its main principle. Removing this ability would undermine the UKs representative democracy.  This links to another key argument for not codifying the constitution which is that or parliamentary sovereignty.   The argument in this essay is one that is against codifying a constitution that has ‘served Britain well for centuries’9. Codifying is not a ‘necessary or desirable’10 form of reform, although some reform would benefit the constitution, the long and possibly costly process of deciding and writing all our constitutional principles into one document is not the way forward. ‘Specific issues do not show a need for wholesale reform of an entire system’11 therefore smaller, more detailed pieces of reform would benefit the UK’s system more effectively rather than trying to deal with the constitution in bulk and ‘tying unconnected changes together’ running the risk that ‘unpopular reforms…that would not have occurred had each separate element been separately debated’12 would be introduced in the new single document.  


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