Unentrenched / Uncodified

The UK constitution is flexible and has been able to develop and evolve naturally. Thus it is often described as an organic constitution, developing just as living organisms grow and change

Traditionally, considerable emphasis has been placed on the distinction between ‘written’ and ‘unwritten’ constitutions. Written constitutions are, in theory, constitutions that are enshrined in law, while unwritten constitutions are supposedly made up of customs and traditions.The former have been‘created’, while the latter have been organic entities that have evolved through history. However, the written/unwritten distinction has always been misleading:

• No constitution is entirely written. No constitution is entirely composed of formal rules that are legally enforceable. Even where written documents exist, these do not, and cannot, define all aspects of constitutional practice. This leads to a reliance on unwritten customs and practices.

• No constitution is entirely unwritten. No constitution consists only of rules of conduct or behaviour. It is a mistake to classify the UK constitution as unwritten, as most of its provisions are, in fact, written. As discussed below, statute law is the most significant source of the constitution. More helpful (and more accurate) than the written/unwritten distinction is the contrast between codified and uncodified constitutions. A codified constitution is one that is based on the existence of a single authoritative

· It is uncodified — there is no single legal code or document in which its key principles are gathered together. Instead, it is derived from a number of sources, some written down, while others are unwritten.

· It is unentrenched — it can be altered relatively easily, by a simple majority vote in Parliament. It, therefore, has a higher degree of flexibility than a codified constitution. There is no special legal procedure for amending the UK constitution. In the UK all laws have equal status. By contrast, a codified constitution has a higher status than ordinary laws and some or all of its provisions are said to be entrenched. For example, an amendment to the United States Constitution requires the support of two-thirds of Congress and of three-quarters of the states to become law.

· It is unitary — sovereignty (or ultimate authority) has traditionally been located at the centre, with the component parts of the country — England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland —all essentially run from London and treated in a similar way. This has been modified since the introduction of devolution in the late 1990s.

Some would now use the term 'union state' to describe the UK since, although the centre remains strong, the individual sub-national units are governed in different ways. The distribution of power between the central and regional governments of the UK can still be altered by an act of Parliament. This is an important difference with a federal constitution like that of Germany or the USA.