British constitution was not drafted at particular time, it has a rather an evolutionary growth spreading over many centuries. This evolution has been characterized with consistency and coordination while the relationship between the past and present has never been rent ascended. Two political upheavals of the English history which occurred in 1649 and 1660, no doubt, did upset the peaceful growth of the constitution for the time being. But the political system recovered, within a short spell, in its pristine form. The Glorious Revolution of 1688, which bore deep imprints on the basic injunctions of the British system, did not break consistency in the evolutionary growth of the constitution. Continuity in this evolutionary process, owes a lot to the flexibility of the constitution. The conservative temperament of English people also played an important role in preserving the consistency in the evolution of their constitution.
The British constitution can be classified into two main parts:
1. Constitutional Law
It signifies the body of rules recognized and enforced through the courts.
2. Conventions of the constitution
These, though most imperative to the working of British political system, are not enforced by the courts.
Features of British Constitution
1. Evolutionary Growth:
The British constitution has never been reduced to writing in a documentary form at a particular time; it has rather an evolutionary growth. Conscious efforts as well as needs of times shaped its spontaneous growth. Important acts of the Parliament and judicial decisions fall under the first category, while unwritten sources such as conventions, also played their due role in the development of the constitutional law.
Unwritten nature of the English constitution does not imply that all of its parts are unwritten. It means that it has not been reduced to writing, as already explained, in a single documentary form. Some of its components are found explicitly in written form such as historic documents, important acts of the Parliament and Common Law.
Flexibility of a constitution implies the absence of specific procedure required for the amendment of the constitution. British constitution is flexible in the sense that the Parliament can amend the constitution like alterations in statutory laws, just by a simple majority.
A noteworthy feature of this constitution is that it is not as flexible as it appears outwardly, for English people due to their conservative temperament, resist abrupt and drastic changes in their constitutional system.
4. Limited Separation of Powers:
Limited separation of powers operates in the working of the governmental system. The reputed French political thinker, Montesquieu, portrayed the theory of “Separation of Powers” on the basis of the observation of the working of the British system. He contemplates that the Crown in Britain, is the repository of executive authority; Parliament performs legislative functions, while the courts exercise judicial authority.
5. Unitary System:
Central government is the exclusive source of all governmental authority in Britain. It demarcates the powers and functions of local institutions and makes rules regarding their organization.
6. Bicameral Legislature:
The Parliament consists of two chambers: House of Lords and House of Commons. The lower house, House of Commons, is a popular chamber whose members are directly elected by the electorate while the upper chamber, House of Lords, is basically a hereditary chamber and its members are nominated by the Queen. House of Commons being a popular chamber, is comparatively more powerful while ion the past it performed a subordinate role.
7. Supremacy of the Parliament:
The doctrine of “Separation of Powers” bears two things. Firstly, Parliament enjoys unlimited powers of legislation and is fully authorized to alter or repeal any law or convention by a simple procedure. It can abolish any political institution or practice that has been in existence for the last many centuries. British Parliament, to put it in the phrase of De Loeme, a French writer, can do every thing except to make a man into a woman or vice versa. Secondly, no law enacted by the Parliament can be challenged in the court on the plea that it is against the constitution whereas in most of the modern states, the superior courts exercise the power of judicial review over the laws passed by the legislatures.
8. Constitutional Monarchy:
From constitutional point of view, the Crown is the repository of the entire governmental authority in Britain. The powers of the Crown are not, however, exercised by the Queen in person, but these are wielded by different branches of the government, of course, on behalf of the Queen. As Ogg was of the view that theoretically British government is absolute monarchy, its governmental form signifies constitutional monarchy, its governmental form signifies constitutional monarchy while in practice, and the governmental structure is closer to Republican form.
9. Parliamentary System:
British political system is pioneer in introducing and developing parliamentary democracy. Cabinet, which is the real executive, is in fact, an integral part of the Parliament. All the members of the Cabinet are the members of either of the chambers of the Parliament. The Cabinet works as a team under the leadership of the Prime minister while all ministers are collectively accountable to the Parliament. The Cabinet’s role is not limited merely to the exercise of administrative authority; it appears all the government bills to be initiated in the House of Commons. The Cabinet in modern times has assumed almost dictatorial powers because the administrative policies of the Cabinet have the sanction of favorable legislation.
10. Two Party System:
Two party system flourished in Britain right from the beginning of the Parliamentary period. Before the emergence of the present Labour Party in the second decade of the present century, the fight was between the Conservatives and the Liberal Party. Prior to that the two rival factions were Tories and Whigs. Hence two major political parties, whatsoever their names, remained active in the political arena. In the present century, Labour Party has taken the place of Liberal Party while the latter has lost its political significance.
11. Rule of Law:
Rule of Law implies three aspects:
a) No person can be detained unlawfully without his guilt being proved in a court of law.
b) All citizens stand equal in the eyes of law and none is above law.
c) Fundamental rights of the citizens are, in the larger part, creator of certain rules of constitutional law.
12. Fundamental Rights:
Fundamental rights of the citizens, unlike the practice of other countries, have not been incorporated in the form of a list in the English Constitution. Constitutional law is not the creator but a product of fundamental rights, which have been recognized, from time to time, by the courts. Hence most of the fundamental rights are based on judicial decisions.
13. Respect to Democratic Values:
The success of democracy in Britain owes a lot to the democratic behavior of the citizens. The Public is generally tolerant to divergent views and the majority of the groups respect the verdict of the majority. Majority Party, on the other hand, pays due regard to the view point of the opposition. An atmosphere of mutual understanding, tolerance and cooperation exists within the Parliament