CONSTITUTION UK

The UK Survives as a Country without a Constitution.

“What that doesn’t make sense. Isn’t it the UK that practically defined the whole concept of a Constitutional Monarchy?” is the most common response to this info.

Odd as it might sound, it is true that the UK is one of the very few nations on Earth that lacks a formal Constitution as a basis for its powers of governance. This fact often confuses visitors and students, and for those who wish to do business in the UK this is another strange cultural quirk that colors their expectations on the law and bureaucracy.

The UK is clearly a modern, developed country that until recently was pivotally located within the European federal framework, possessing far disproportionate power and influence to its geographic size and population. At no point in the past century has the lack of a formalized constitution been a hindrance to their governance, so how is it that they can do without this strongly defined legal foundation for their national identity?

Other Countries without a Constitution

But before we discuss how this works out in practice, here are the other nations that do not possess a formal constitution.

  • Israel
  • Saudi Arabia
  • New Zealand
  • Canada

There are literally only a handful of nations without a codified constitution. None of them can really be considered governmentally unstable states either. Israel has its Basic Laws as a general substitute for the spread of government activities, while Saudi Arabia’s monarchy bases their laws on Sharia Laws derived from the Quran. New Zealand and Canada have Constitution Acts that comprise a portion of their uncodified constitution and Acts of Parliament, treaties, orders, and court decisions to make up the difference. Of course, the interesting part of the latter two is how they define their constitutions as “similar in principle to the United Kingdom”.

But Why?

Unlike other nations that founded themselves based on principles laid out in their Constitution or overthrew their previous monarchs to set up a Republic, the UK’s constitutional powers evolved over centuries of compromise between the powers of the Monarchy and the House of Lords. Eventually this transitioned into the parliamentary system we use today.

There was never a drastic need to set out one big formal document detailing the powers, privileges and limits of the government because it was laid out across several other bodies of laws and customs.

The whole concept of a constitution, a charter, detailing the rights and obligations of a government was pioneered in these isles by the historic Magna Carta. However as times passed most of its provisions were repealed or its rights secured by other statutes, and the document holds little legal weight today. This is reflective of the fluid way the UK approaches the bonds of legalism from which is derived the protection of its citizens and the power of its government.

In certain ways, this approach makes it far easier to change the laws to be more responsive to the needs of the people. There is sometimes a distressing tendency not to treat constitutions as living documents that can be amended as the times change, but almost enshrined as unchanging holy writ from which derives all authority to act.

Flexibility of Bits and Pieces

So if not a Constitution where then does the UK derive its rule of state? The UK is simultaneously a monarchy and a representative democracy.

Though the Monarchy largely serves a ceremonial role at present, by law the executive power is vested from them to the Parliament. The 1689 Bill of Rights subordinates the authority of the Crown to the Parliament, one of the documents that among several others form the uncodified constitution of the UK, and an inspiration for the formation of other nations’ Constitutions later on.

Due to the evolutionary nature of British Law, the UK has something called the Parliamentary Supremacy, which grants it the certain qualities:

  • Parliament can make laws concerning anything,
  • No Parliament can bind a future parliament (that is, it cannot pass a law that cannot be changed or reversed by a future Parliament),
  • A valid Act of Parliament cannot be questioned by the court. Parliament is the supreme lawmaker.

“So the Parliament can’t be stopped by the courts? Isn’t that dangerous?” is the most common response from other nations that rely on the checks and balances between the judiciary, legislative and executive branches of government.

A common way to visualize the Parliament as the equal powers of the Crown, the House of the Commons and the House of Lords. In practice the bi-cameral (dual chamber) parliament plus the requisite monarchical ratification works out a comprehensive set of checks and balances that would otherwise have to be provided by a written constitution.

From Bill to Law and Partisan Bickering in Between

A major characteristic of the UK’s uncodified constitution is the meticulous process that a bill must go through before legal enactment.

Any bill must start at the House of Commons, the elected body of representatives whose Members of Parliament are empowered with legislative initiative. Known as the First Chamber, her legislation is proposed and debated before the final draft is submitted to the Second Chamber, the House of Lords.

This body is largely formed of appointees, and membership may pass from generations or new members proposed by the House of Commons. They no longer have the right to veto (since Parliamentary act of 1911) but only delay enactment of a bill or send back to the first chamber proposed changes to their bills.

While the unelected nature of a sizable legislative body may be disconcerting to someone not used to the parliamentary system, it is the function of the Upper Chamber made of appointees to consider public policies before they become Acts of Parliament and become law and to hold the government to account. They can take a longer view rather than the election-focused perspective of Members of Parliament. While the monarch has not used the power of veto for a very long time now, there still exists an important constitutional safeguard for the passing of laws.

This is in contrast to the sometimes acrimonious relationship between lawmaking bodies in other systems. It is true that there is still a lot of horrid politicking going on, and sometimes there are missteps in the direct way that the Parliament can propose binding conventions on national policy (the whole Brexit debacle), but rarely so how different branches can oppose each other based on partisan divisions.

Laws and the execution of laws are often challenged using being unconstitutional or not exactly forbidden by the constitution as a bludgeon. The Parliament is supposed to be a self-policing body, in a way that the Judiciary tends to serve in other systems. Because of this power to create and overturn any law that itself has made, the United Kingdom unlike most other European nations has been relatively inured to major (and sometimes bloody) social revolutions ever since the late 1600s.

It may not be readily apparent, but behind the scenes is often just as strict and detailed code of conduct that help to ensure the government runs smoothly day by day. Though there is not a single definitive document as a constitution to define the government, there are various codes and practices and layers of custom that help to curtail excesses of power.

Still Waters, Deep Currents

Though it is not so obvious on first glance, the UK constitution does exist in a very operative form. Centuries and a lot of blood was spilled to create this system that sharply restrained both the abusable powers of the monarchy and the temptation of narrow-minded populist desires.

Though lacking a single document, its different Bills and Acts of Parliament and other laws all combine to a system that has served to inspire the formation of many other democratic nations. It can be argued to have one of the oldest and most successful constitutions that has ever existed. One can be confident that it can continue to survive in this manner for quite a while longer using this irrepressible historical momentum of a tradition that demands an ability to change and adapt.

unmarried separation law

Legislation To Protect Separating UK Unmarried Couples Overdue

According to the Office Of National Statistics, unmarried couples and families living together are the fastest growing cohabitants in the United Kingdom. As of 2016, there are approximately 3.3 million cohabiting families and the number has doubled since the statistics taken 1996 at 1.5 million.

Legislation for the protection of  unmarried couples and families is well overdue.  Lawyers have been arguing this issue for well over 10 years.  This includes the rights and responsibilities of unmarried couples upon separation and should be addressed as soon as possible.

A recent survey by the Family Lawyers Organisation of its members revealed that 88% of cohabiting couples believe they have legal protection.  It has also shown that 98% mistakenly believed they have the same rights as married couples.

Due to the statistics from surveys, it is believed that legislation for unmarried couples has not provided proper legal protection.  Back in 2007, the Law Commission recommended a plan that would be a contribution-based financial award for separating couples who had a child together and lived together for a certain period of time.  Couples in the plan also had the option to back out if they chose to.

In 2011, the government announced they would not move forward with these proposals.  Even though the commission called on the next government to move forward and not delay, there was a lack of interest or political will.  In light of more pressing issues of national interest, there have been no changes.

Nigel Shepherd, chair of Resolution and head of family law at Mills & Reeve, told Solicitors Journal that his organisation envisions a law where unmarried couples could meet the criteria, through a committed relationship, allowing them the right to apply for certain financial orders upon separation.

This right would kick in automatically unless the couple chose to back out.  The court would be able to make the same orders as they do for divorced couples but on a limited basis.  These benefits could include payments for child care which would allow the caregiver the ability to work.

According to Julia Thackray, former head of the family team at Penningtons and programme leader at Central Law Training, believes reforms are well overdue.  She went on to point out, with the increasing number of couples living together, it is even more critical that the government gets back to the issue of cohabitation and financial protection for these people.  This issue should not be a carbon copy of divorce but should offer some level of protection and as a safety net where  otherwise real needs will not be met.

Unfortunately, there are many cases where people are extremely vulnerable, they have children, cannot work or only work part-time, and this contributes to more family financial concerns.  They have to compromise their earning abilities and limited housing options and there is absolutely nothing they can do about it.  In other situations where couples do not have children but have other expenses, they are not allowed to make a property claim.  Due to other expenses, it may allow the property owner to pay off more on their mortgage so they can have an advantage later on.

In June of 2015, Lord Marks introduced the Cohabitation Rights Bill to address this huge vacuum in the law.  This bill would provide basic protections for unmarried couples and a provision for their property upon one partner’s death.  Under the bill, the court would be able to make a financial settlement order where there is a “retained benefit” or “economic disadvantage” dependent. This would allow for “qualifying contributions” be made for either financial or other reasons.

Before an order can be presented, the court must deem whether it is fair when addressing any “discretionary factors” which would include the earning capabilities of both parties and the welfare of a child.  Couples would also have protection upon a death instead of just separation and this is a very important point.

Lord Marks’ bill also has safeguards in place that would provide protection for insurable interests in lives, being intestate upon death, and rights related to their home.  It also provides for the possibility for a claim against a partner’s estate upon death.

Lord Marks will take part in an upcoming debate to support extending the legal rights of those who choose not to marry.  Those advocating reform will want to stay up on the progress being made by the bill in the House of Lords.  Without a specific date for the second reading of his bill, no one is any closer in guaranteeing cohabitation laws will meet the demands of the 21st century than the Law Commission was 10 years ago.

Unmarried couples should have the same protections and rights as those who are married.  With the growing number of people are choosing to live together vs marrying, the government must address these concerns in a timely manner.

strange english laws

Strange English Laws

Old England had the strangest of laws. Charles Dickens called the law an idiot and an ass.

Although old England had so many strange laws in times past. Those laws made complete sense as at then, but in recent times the commission have been repelling some of them.

In 1965, the Law Commission was commissioned and was charged with the mandate of repealing ancient English laws and also updating them. The law commission is responsible for reviewing ancient laws and recommending appropriate changes to be made.

It is not an easy job wading through dusty statute books that are ancient searching for old English laws that are strange and adding them to the Repeal Bill, they do this because they have no jurisdiction crossing these laws out. It is only the parliament that has this power after deliberating on them for some time.

One example of England weird laws;
In 1307,a law was passed, that stated that the whales that are dead and seen on the British coast automatically becomes the king’s property. Also, the tail of the whale is to be given to Queen to make her corset. Looking at history, in the year 1307, on 7th July that same year, Edward I died and as his dying wish, Edward I asked his son to take his bones along, when going to conquer Robert the Bruce of Scotland.

Placing a stamp that bears British monarch in a wrong way, is an act of treason and it is punishable by death.

On the 25th of December, It was also illegal to eat mince-pie and this was applied in all of England.

Another English law states, not disclosing information to the taxman is illegal, but disclosing information you don’t mind telling him, is not. This was the law under the UK’s Tax Avoidance Schemes Regulations 2006.

In the 1800, many criminals were sentenced to death on the bases of different crimes committed, such as; impersonating a Chelsea Pensioner, picking pockets, forgery, murder,sheep-stealing, treason, stealing money, horse-stealing,damaging properties and so much more, there are about two hundred in total.

Archery Law
It is mandatory for males who are English and above the age of fourteen to take longbow lessons every weekend for two hours. a church official supervises. As at that time, since no armies existed, only trained infantry, knights, archers and others that existed. Trotters Bottom in Hertfordshire was one of the oldest archery range that still exists till date. Archery ranges were usually located on the extreme end of the field.

Shooting of a Welsh person on Sunday in Hereford was prohibited except with a Longbow, murdering a Welsh person at all hours of the day, so far he is within the city walls.

It is illegal in York, to kill a Scotsman carrying a bow and arrow within the city of York, but this law is not applicable on a Sunday.

English Laws that are Weird
Seeing a mannequin that is naked is illegal for all ten year old boys.

Hanging a bed from a window is illegal.

Leaving and picking up luggage that was abandoned is also illegal.

It is allowed for all English males to urinate behind the wheel of his vehicle but he must place his right hand on it.

In the late 16th Century, a law was introduced to outlaw “molly houses” where homosexuals committed immoral acts. This law banned two or more males from having sexual activities in a house.

English females eating chocolate in public is illegal.

It is a crime to commit suicide in England. Although this law was repealed.
It is considered an offence to be drunk in an inn, this is because the premise is licensed.

It was illegal not to carry bags of oats and bales of hay, when using Carriages in London. The reason for this is that in ancient times horses drawn. In 1976, This law was repealed. Even till this day, all public transport drivers must ask their passengers their smallpox status and it is illegal to carry corpse or sick dogs in your cab without asking for permission from your passengers. At that time it was illegal to impersonate or dress like a Chelsea Pensioner in order to get unmerited pensions. There were brave men who risked their lives for their country and less brave men who were cowardly laying claims to another’s pension. Impostors were sentenced to death when caught.

In 1682, King Charles II Founded The Men in Scarlet. It is a sanctuary for veterans to get relief and treatment from war injuries. It can still be seen, if you are visiting Westminster.

Christmas was considered illegal at 1647, by the English parliament. A Puritan leader banned all festivities relating to Christmas, but after the Puritans left the governing authority in 1660, Christmas was made legal. Then, anyone who celebrated Christmas was arrested.

Keeping a pigsty is allowed for all Londoners, especially in front of their house.
In 1797, John Hetherington who hated London, publicly carried his Top Hat he created. As a result he pulled a large crowd of people but unfortunately for him many women fainted as a result of the noise and a little boy broke his arm. He was fined fifty pounds for disturbing the king’s peace and coming out of his house wearing a shining lustre that was tall, it was seen by the court as a way of frightening people. He was charged and fined.

Shaking a carpet in the street of the Metropolitan Police District was illegal, but this action becomes legal before 8am and nothing later.

Dyeing was illegal in the Houses of Parliament Wearing a full suit of armor by a member of parliament is illegal when worn to the House of Commons.

Trading on Sundays.
Only carrots were allowed to be sold on a Sunday. This law made it relatively illegal to sell anything else. Those business owners that wished to sell their wares sold carrots for huge sums of money, but gifted their wares in return.

Buying and selling of the bible on Sunday was illegal, but Buying and selling dirty magazines was legal on a Sunday.

A Chinese shop can open on Sunday and must sell chips and fish only, but the opening of an English traditional shop that sells fish and chips on Sunday was illegal.

Domestic Violence
It is a popular saying that you should not beat your spouse with anything wider than your thumb, this is derived from an ancient law (rule of thumb).
I have searched hard for the original document that contain wife beating and the rule of thumb. My search proved futile but I found a saying that a carpenter measures with his thumb as a ruler, substituting it for a measuring stick. I apologise for straying of topic but debunking the ancient English law (the rule of thumb), was my aim.

Giving breadcrumbs to a pregnant woman is a must for a baker. Also refusing a woman that is pregnant the right to use a toilet is illegal for a pharmacist.

A woman with an unborn child has the right to urinate anywhere she wants to. In the whole of England this law is enforced.