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Us/Uk Constitution, which is better?

Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,324 The Mix Honorary Guru
Just thought i'd give you a taste of the psychobabble i write for Politics essays when i leave it to the last hour and a half of the night.

Which serves its citizens best; The UK’s Uncodified Constitution or the Codified Constitution in the US?

The fluid constitution of the UK with sweeping powers commanded in the royal prerogative, lawmaking often based in tradition and conventions that are at best one hundred years old has often come under sustained fire for not respecting its citizens. Yet, the rigid, codified US constitution containing a bill of rights along with separation of powers and provision for federal government has been criticised for its inflexibility often coupled with anachronisms that are hard to be rid of. Is it just a case of ‘the grass is always greener…’? Or is there an inherently superior system?

The UK Constitution barely warrants the name. What is often referred to as the ‘UK Constitution’ is in fact a loose collection of traditions, conventions, laws and feudal power. The description of the UK as a ‘constitutional monarchy’ does not, in fact mean the monarchs powers are limited in any substantial way. The powers of the monarch, almost intact, reside with the Prime Minister in the form of the Royal Prerogative. These powers, unlike the US presidents, are practically unlimited. The journalist Nick Cohen asked if he could get all the prerogative powers held by the PM on a sheet, the government representative laughed and said ‘That would take weeks!’. This is in stark contrast to the separation set down in the US constitution of the powers of government. The President is in effect shackled by the US Constitution through the powers of Congress and the Supreme Court; these institutions codified powers to reject legislation, veto war and declare the Presidents actions unconstitutional to have him/her removed. The Prime Minister is, in effect a Monarch only removable by the Commons whom he/she will invariably control. Theoretically then, the lack of a codified separation of powers leaves the PM with scope to seriously infringe on citizens rights as he/she pleases, the President is checked by Congress and the Supreme Court.

A number of other areas also seem ripe for evidence of the fairness and integrity of the Codified Constitution: The Bill Of Rights enshrines every citizen’s basic human rights in practically untouchable law while the European Convention on Human Rights adopted by the UK as part of it’s piecemeal human rights legislation is all too easily brushed aside as is evident in the recent Anti-Terrorism legislation. Because the US Bill of Rights is not merely law but also incredibly hard to change it makes it hard for successive administrations to tamper with citizens rights whereas the stranglehold of legislative power held by the incumbent Government in the UK makes it easy for them to change legislation adopted by a previous Government. Therefore UK citizens could see their rights see-saw wildly with every new government. As happened with the miners; under a Labour government they striked until the government fell, under Thatcher their freedom of movement and expression was severely curtailed by paramilitary police tactics. Theoretically the codified constitution wins out.

In effect however, there seems to be a different story. The US citizen is currently having their rights curtailed severely by an administration pushing through legislation such as the Patriot Act that skirts the constitution so close that it would be almost impossible to pass under normal circumstances. The US Government uses fear of terrorists to curtail its citizens rights without them really caring. It can do this because the Supreme Court although supposed to be separated from the Political arms of the state is in fact packed by the current political elite, ensuring a worldview prevails after the administration ends. The political appointments to the highest court of the land make a mockery of separation of powers and so severely inhibit US citizens rights. Also, the domination by a party of both Houses and the Presidency also leaves the door open for simple rubber-stamping of legislation by the Legislature. This means the US system becomes, in reality no better than the UK system where the Uncodified powers of the government coupled with domination of the unitary legislature leave scope for the UK government to pull similar tricks with Anti-Terrorism legislation and the like.

In reality then, both methods of constitutional rule fail to protect their citizens. Both systems crumble immediately one Party gains overwhelming power in the houses. The Prime Ministers parliamentary majority gives him/her an ability to pass whatever legislation he or she likes with the support of their party. The President also can wend his or her way around the codified constitution if he or she dominates the three sections of government. Checks and Balances US style are impotent if they are politically controlled and Parliamentary power in the UK is a joke anyway as the Government must have a majority to form a government. The rights of both sets of citizens can continue to be infringed while those rights remain part of the political scene, the US constitution almost achieves this in the Supreme Court that should defend the Bill of Rights as sacred yet the politicisation of the judiciary in both countries leaves the way open for damaging legislation that infringes on the rights of the citizen.
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