• Topic 5: The Monarchy and the Constitution

    Topic 5: The Monarchy and the Constitution


    > 1952 : Elisabeth II still on the throne for 60 years now.

    > Traditionnaly we don't say citizens but subjects (even if now we say citizens of the UK).

    > There is symbols of the Queen everywhere, reminding the dominant position of the Monarch : Royal Navy, Royal mail, Her Majesty's courts service,...

    > The Monarch is the head of state and of the government (and army,...). Theoretically it's a huge power. The Royal prerogative : it's the Queen job to open and close and desolve Parliament. System of Royal assent (approbation) for laws. She appoints Ministers including the PM. She can also declare war, or peace (traités).


    > But is she really the head of the country ?

    → No, she doesn't govern the country, it's only theoretical powers. « Reigns but doesn't rule ». It's a figure head, a symbol of power.


    > If the Queen is not governing, who does ?

    → UK Parliament and the PM, who today is the real figure of power. It's on the name of the Queen but it's the PM who govern.


    > Process of royal power transfered to Minister : 

    → 1215 Magna Carta : The King asked a tax that the noble didn't want to pay, so the king put them in prison. So the noble make this charter to limit the power of the king: for he does not put people in jail if he wants to.

    → 1688 Glorious Revolution : William III of Orange and Mary. Revolution where one King is replced by another King (the previous one was unpopular, he was forced to exile). He was catholic and autocratic, so William III and Mary came to the throne. They accept the principle of the Parliament giving power to the Monarch.

    → 1689 Bill of Rights : The King accept he can no longer do some things. (ex : he can't do laws, taxes, without the Parliamment agreement). 3 things he doesn't have in his really own power.

    → 1714 King George I : As a British King he is also King of Germany, he's german and doesn't even talk english, and not carying about English policies. He clearly delegates his powers to the Ministers, in particular the Chief Minsiter, ou PM.

    → Constitutional Monarchy / Parliamentary Monarchy : The Queen is actually a well-loved figure in the UK. She represent stability in a time of change and crisis. She is also a symbol of British national unity. It's also good for tourism, and the Royal family is a model of family with great values. But there is also some criticism. She's extremely wealthy and in particular in the 90s there is some complain as she doesn't pay taxes. On these years the Queen was also critized for her cold temper about Diana's death. Charles is also not popular, he is an excentric. Anyway, a Republic was wanted by 20% of the population, so still 80% wanted the Monarchy.


    > The UK Constitution

    Définition : “Formal record of how the state should be run”. It should countain : Principles, Human Rights, Institutions, and Territory. These are the things we find in most constitutions.

    > Constitution is different of “the law”. In France the law is the Code Civil and the Code Penal. In the UK the Constitution is uncodified. So is there a Constitution ? Yes : there is no formal single document, but we can find some writen elements of the Constitution. No single unified document called the UK Constitution but there is a multiplicity of different documents. So the Constitution evolves with the time:

    • Historical documents may represents the pieces of Constitution (Magna Carta, Bill of Rights,...)

    • Statute law simply are laws passed by Parliament (ex: 1988 Scotland act, devolution).

    • EU law: since 1973, may considered of being part of the Constitution.

    • Common laws: laws codified by judges (not by Parliament).

    > All of these are documents, we can read them. But there is also an unwriten source:

    • Convention: even if it's unwriten it's an important part of the law passed by tradition:

      Ex: to be PM you have to be elected as an MP, the convention say you can't be PM if you weren't MP.

      Ex: The Queen chose the PM but it's directed by convention, she has to chose the leader of the largest Party after a general election.

      Ex: (Theorically) the Queen has to approve (or not) laws. In reality the Queen never refuses legislation because it's a tradition (the last contestation was 300 years ago).


    The Human Rights

    > Habeas Corpus Act 1679: you can't go to jell unless there is a “procès” and it's explained to you why you're going to jell.

    > Implicit Rights → General principles, for example citizens are free. If there is no document who say you can't do it, so you can do it. You were borned free.

    > 1998: Human Rights Act: Biggest Change of the Constitution.

    > The UK can't ignore the EU Convention on Human Rights.


    Constitutionality in UK

    > In France there is a Constitutional Council who check if the new laws respect the Constitution. In the UK the Constitution is made of laws the Parliament have passed. We can't say “this law can't pass because it doesn't respect the Constitution”, because it's juste a law eventually.

    > Entrenchment → protected from modification. There is no entrenchment in UK: a simply new law is enough.

    > Clarity, flexibility.



    Book: Chap 2: The Monarchy (p.24-31)

              Chap 3: The Constitution (p.43-56)


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