The Advantages and Disadvantages of Great Britain’s Unwritten Constitution


Great Britain is a country with a vast history. It has endured many years of existence and many changes have taken place. From a political perspective, a written constitution is a considerable step in the establishment of a working government. Many civilized countries take it for granted. The United Kingdom, however, does not have one. It has an ‘unwritten constitution’ which is mainly based on statutes, common law and conventions. Common law is a law which is developed over time from decisions based on rulings of courts, which are called statutes, while conventions are simply customs that have been accepted as the norm over time. Conventions are not written down. This may seem preposterous to some people. Many citizens of the United States, for example, who love to proclaim their constitution as the ‘holy grail’ of their ‘god-given rights’ would, most likely, shriek at the idea of giving up their written constitution. Nonetheless, there are advantages and disadvantages to keeping the constitution unwritten.

The disadvantages may seem more obvious than the advantages at first look. What would a written constitution offer the citizens and what would it change for the government? First of all, a clear set of rules would exist. This would instil a sense of certainty in people. In turn, this also means that there would be a given set of human rights which would protect the citizens in their individual liberties. Giving the people a sense of political transparency may help people feel less endangered by the political identity of their nation. Since it is likely that the constitutional court would be represented by a decision-making-body that stands for justice, it would offer a system of fairness and neutrality. This would also change the relationship between the government and the people in a way that would make it more difficult for the government of the United Kingdom to impose its current system on the people. For example, the first-past-the-post election system would be more difficult to justify if a rule of democracy and fair voting were written down and exclaimed as a right of the public. However, constitutions change over time. Any adjustment done by the government could lead to a loss of the right to a certain liberty which was once taken for granted. This is one of the reasons why the unwritten constitution has its advantages.

First of all, an unwritten constitution is highly flexible. It has a much higher ability of adapting to changing times. In the case of a written constitution it would, therefore be much more difficult to change the laws and human rights that have been established, which is problematic considering the changing cultural morality of the public. This process would be much easier to bring about in the case of an unwritten constitution, as the laws are already in a constant flux of change. Furthermore, how likely is it that members of the constitutional court could be corrupted and coerced to no longer represent a just system? Should an unelected judicial body really be given this much trust to represent the rights of the citizens? Not to mention, a constitution is usually a document that is ridden with legal language which is hard for people to understand. So how hard would it be to deceive the people into thinking that it means something different? If it is mostly lawyers and judges who can understand the terminology, one should wonder: Who can afford the better lawyers? Another disadvantage of the written constitution and therefore representative of an advantage of the unwritten one is that it opens doors for political bias. A particular set of ideals and guidelines is established. This is, of course, highly generalized and does not take into account the many different backgrounds of the people. An unwritten constitution offers a system of less prejudice which may be more inclined to see people as individuals instead of representatives of certain predetermined dilemmas. This could provide people with a highly individualized way of being judged.

The unwritten constitution of the United Kingdom is a much discussed topic. Most people view their written constitution as a ‘pillow of safety’, when, in reality, it may not be and should, as anything, be questioned as to how much it really provides one with what people hold as their basic rights. It has become apparent all over the world, that just having a written constitution may not be enough to provide people with a basic set of laws and rights. The unwritten constitution seems to be more adaptable and more open to individualized ways of judgement while the written constitution provides a barrier for corruption and blatant disregard of human rights. It is hard to conclude which could provide the nation with a better basis for morality and liberty, because both seem to have advantages while, in nature, completely defying each other.




About AnekaB

Literature, Philosophy, Culture
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