constitution is flexible

The UK constitution consists not only of statutes, but of conventions, practices and underlying principles such as parliamentary sovereignty and the rule of law which means it can be changed in a number of ways.

The UK Constitution can be amended (changed) by passing laws (statutes) though Parliaments- It's no harder to change the constitution than to pass any law.

Examples include the following:

  • · The Constitutional Reform Act of 2005 established a new judicial body — the Supreme Court.

  • · The Human Rights Act of 1998 forced all public bodies, except the UK Parliament, to abide by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

  • · The Scotland Act of 1998 established devolved (autonomous) government in Scotland.


Conventions can amend the constitution

Unwritten practices, usually known as conventions, develop over time. These are unwritten rules to which everyone in the political system adheres. Thus, over the past 70 years, we have seen a number of changes as a result of new conventions. Examples include the following:

  • The House of Lords should not obstruct any proposals contained in the government's most recent election manifesto (this is known as the 'Salisbury Convention' after Lord Salisbury, who first proposed it in the 1940s).

  • · The prime minister must be a member of the House of Commons and not the House of Lords.

  • · Any important constitutional changes require the approval of a referendum.

Referendums that confirm amendments to the constitution

Referendums are increasingly used to confirm constitutional change. Examples include the following:

  • · 1997: two referendums to decide whether power should be devolved to Scotland and Wales

  • · 1998: a referendum in Northern Ireland to determine whether an autonomous, power-sharing government should be established there

  • · 1998: a referendum to decide whether London should have its own elected mayor

  • · 2011: a referendum in Wales to approve the granting of additional law-making powers to the Welsh Assembly

  • · 2011: a referendum to decide whether to adopt the alternative vote (AV) system for general elections in the UK

Courts can change the constitution by interpreting the law which establishes new precedents and even new rights

  • Judges have effectively created a privacy law through the way they have interpreted the Human Rights Act. In a series of high-profile court cases, they appeared to give priority to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to privacy) over Article 10 (the right to freedom of expression), as claimed by the press. This was not the result of a change to statute law and was not explicitly covered by common law. For example, in 2008 the High Court awarded Max Mosley, the head of the Formula 1 motor racing organisation, substantial damages when the News of the World published a story about his sex life, which he argued had breached his privacy. On the other hand it is worth noting that Mosley failed in a subsequent action in the European Court of Human Rights, which refused to rule that newspapers should notify people before printing stories about their personal lives.

  • Common Law is added to by the decisions of courts and the creation of precedent.