1.1. Look through these questions before reading the text.
What is meant by “constitutional monarchy” and “parliamentary democracy”?
Why is the British Constitution one of the most notable features of the British system of government?
Why does Britain not have a written constitution? Does it need one?
What are the sources of the British constitution?
Britain is a constitutional monarchy. That means it is a country governed by a king or queen who accepts the advice of parliament. It is also a parliamentary democracy. That is, it is a country whose government is controlled by a parliament which has been elected by the people. In other words, the basic system is not so different from anywhere else in Europe. The highest positions in the government are filled by members of the directly elected parliament. In Britain, as in many European countries, the official head of state, whether a monarch (as in Britain, the Netherlands and Denmark) or a president (as in Germany, Greece and Italy) has little real power.
However, there are features of the British system of government which make it different from that in other countries and which are not ‘modern’ at all. The most notable of these is the question of the constitution.
Britain has a constitution, but not as an authoritative document or set of rules which describes the powers and duties of government institutions and the relations between them. It is not unwritten; rather, it is uncodified. There is no single written document which can be appealed to as the highest law of the land and the final arbiter in any matter of dispute. Nobody can refer to ‘Article 6’ or ‘the first amendment’ or anything like that, because nothing like that exists.
Instead, the principles and procedures by which the country is governed and from which people’s rights are derived come from a number of different sources. They have been built up, bit by bit, over the centuries. Some of them are written down in laws agreed by Parliament, some of them have been spoken and then written down (judgements made in a court) and some of them have never been written down at all. For example, there is no written law in Britain that says anything about who can be the Prime Minister or what the powers of the Prime Minister are, even though he or she is probably the most powerful person in the country. Similarly, there is no single written document which asserts people’s rights. Some rights which are commonly accepted in modern democracies (for example, the rights not to be discriminated against on the basis of sex or race) have been formally recognised by Parliament through legislation; but others (for example, the rights not to be discriminated against on the basis of religion or political views) have not. Nevertheless, it is understood that these latter rights are also part of the constitution.
Most written constitutions are adopted by states which are newly independent or have suffered a rupture in their evolution (e.g. France in 1958). In the case of Britain, we cannot date the system of government or set of rules as being constituted at one point in time.
The British system has been widely admired. Britain prepared written constitutions for many of the colonies when they became independent and many states, in drawing up constitution, tried to copy British features.
Sources of the British constitution
Common law, or traditions and customs administered by the old common law courts, e.g. freedom of expression, which have come to be accepted as constituting the law of the land.
Statutory, or parliamentary, law overrides common law and provides a substantial written part of the constitution. It includes such measures as the Act of Union, 1707, the Bill of Rights, 1689, etc.
Judges’ interpretations of statute law, or “judicial Review’, as it is called. Judges do not decide on the validity of laws duly passed by Parliament but on whether the law has been applied properly (e.g. in 1975, when the courts found against the Minister's of Education interpretation of his discretionary power in refusing to allow Tameside to select for secondary education)
Conventions are rules which, lack the force of law but have been adhered to for so long that they are regarded as binding. Examples include the resignation of the Prime Minister following defeat on a no-confidence vote in the Commons; the Sovereign’s assent to a Bill passed through Parliament.
Conventions loom large as an element in the British constitution: they are the key to its flexibility. Many essential features of the political system – e.g. ministerial responsibility, collective responsibility, occasions for a dissolution of Parliament, and constitutional monarchy are all largely the product of convention.
1.2. Give the English equivalents to the following Russian words and word-combinations:
занимать основные посты в правительстве
официальный (исходящий от законной власти) документ
поправка (к конституции)
происходить из разных источников
подвергаться дискриминации по какому-либо признаку
перелом, резкий поворот в развитии (государства)
Use the above given text and the glossary (2.2) to discuss the constitutional process in Britain and in your own country. 2.2. Glossary.
«неписаная конституция», в Великобритании нет конституции в полном смысле этого слова, ее заменяют Парламентские статуты (статутное право), конституционные обычаи (соглашения) и общее (прецедентное) право