What is a Constitution?


A state’s constitution consists of its central principles and precedents that form the basis of how that country is governed. Each state has formed its own constitution and sources over time, a constitution can be codified, uncodified, written down or just a set of established precedents. The constitution sets out the roles of the key institutions and roles of the branches of government. It sets out things such as how the constitution can be amended, how to conduct elections and how things like parliament are run.

In the UK, we have a uncodified constitution that comes from many sources and also holds a few key principles that together dictate how the UK is governed. For example, in the UK one source of law is the parliament and the parliamentary law it creates, a key part of the UK constitution is the parliamentary sovereignty that upholds this law. A key principle of the UK constitution means that everyone, including politicians, are accountable to the law of the land and can be prosecuted if they break it, known as the rule of law. Due to the uncodified nature of our constitution it is un-entrenched and is consequently able to be interpreted to meet the ever-changing political environment.

Key Terms


Branches of governmentThe separation of governmental power into the executive, legislature and judiciary branches to prevent politicians from abusing their powers (see the Branches of Government article for a more detailed explanation).

Codified – A codified constitution is set out in a single document and has a single source so it is clear how the country should be run, it is also entrenched.

Entrenched – An entrenched constitution is specified within its source, due to they lay out of the constitution it is very difficult to amend and change.

The Houses of Parliament – The legislative body of the UK. Consisting of the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

Parliamentary sovereignty – Key principle of the UK constitution. Parliament and the legislation it creates have supreme authority and have the power to overrule past laws and all other sources of the constitution.

Rule of law – Key principle of the UK constitution that means everyone, including politicians, are accountable to the law of the land and can be prosecuted if they break it.

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