British Constitution Versus American Constitution: Comparative Analysis

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A constitution is an aggregate of fundamental principles or established precedents that constitute the legal basis of a polity, organization, or another type of entity and commonly determine how that entity or country or government is to be governed.

When these principles are written down into a single document or set of legal documents, they become law and are enforceable by the concerned authorities, those documents may be said to be a written constitution. if they are encompassed in a single detailed document, it is said to be a codified constitution. Some constitutions (such as that of the United Kingdom) are uncodified or in their word unwritten, but written in numerous fundamental Acts of a legislature, court cases, precedence, or treaties which can also be with other countries.

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Constitutions concern different levels of organizations, from sovereign countries to companies and unincorporated associations. A treaty that establishes an international organization is also its constitution, in that it would define how that organization is constituted or governed. Within states, a constitution defines the principles upon which the state is based, it clearly defines the procedure in which laws are made and by whom. Some constitutions, especially codified constitutions, also act as limiters of state power or give different powers to different branches of the government, by establishing lines that a state's rulers cannot cross, such as fundamental rights and also human rights.

The constitution of the United Kingdom (UK) is a supreme law of the country, where the monarch is the head of the country and the prime minister is the head of the government. United kingdom’s constitution has a very unique characteristic that it is not codified into a single document. In other words, it is an unwritten constitution. The united kingdom’s supreme court recognizes that there are constitutional principles which include parliamentary sovereignty, the rule of law, democracy, and upholding international law. The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom also tells that Acts of Parliament have special constitutional status. These acts include the Magna Carta of 1215 which requires the King or queen to call a common counsel which is now called the Parliament of the United Kingdom, to represent people, to hold courts in a fixed place or building, to guarantee fair and unbiased trials, to guarantee the free movement of the citizen of the country, to separate the church from the state, and to guarantee rights of common and ordinary people to use the land for any logical purpose. After the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution, the 1689 Bill of Rights and the Claim of Rights Act 1689 cemented Parliament's supremacy over the royals and monarch, the courts, and the churches, and said that the election of members of Parliament ought to be free and independent without any biases.

According to the standard of many countries of the world, especially western countries, the UK does not have a constitution at all in the sense that it is not in the written form which is most commonly used around the world. Around the globe, the constitution is considered as a document of fundamental and utmost importance setting out the common structure of government and its relationship with its countries citizens as well as its legal system. All countries globally, excluding the United Kingdom, Israel, and New Zealand, have adopted a documentary, codified, or written kind of constitution of this kind, the first and most complete model being that of the United States of America which was written in 1788 when it declared its independence from the UK. The American constitution was written by their founding fathers and then it was enforced. However, in Britain, I can certainly say that they have a constitution, but it is one that exists in an abstract sense (Unwritten), including a list of diverse laws, practices, and conventions that have evolved and changed over a very long period of time throughout their history.

If we compare UK’s constitution with the United States of America’s constitution we can get a very interesting comparison. Both countries are constitutional democracies. The UK has an uncodified or unwritten constitution on the other hand the united states of America’s constitution is codified or written. The US constitution consists of a strict system of separation of powers between the three branches of government which are Legislative, Executive, and Judicial on the other hand the UK has a mixture of powers like the prime minister of the UK is also a member of the parliament that is not the case with US president. The US constitution is a Presidential constitution which means the head of the US state is the president, whereas the UK has a Parliamentary constitution which means the parliament chooses the prime minister. For a bill to become law and then become part of the constitution, it has to simply pass through and be voted on in Parliament in the United Kingdom with the majority winning but whereas in America 2/3 of the states and senate must vote in the favour of the bill for an amendment to be added in the constitution. This is the main reason besides having a lot of negativity against gun law in America it has not been changed. Whenever any government tries to change the gun laws in the US, each time they fail. This is because the US needs 2/3 votes from the states and senate to do so but they are unable to get that king of the vote. If something like this controversial law (Gun law) has to be changed in the UK they can do it easily because they don’t need a 2/3rd vote to do so, only a majority vote can change the law. The Supreme Court in the United Kingdom cannot declare legislation from the Parliament as unconstitutional because the supreme court does not have the power to do so. On the other hand, the American Supreme Court can declare any Executive act or Act of Congress as unconstitutional because it has the power to do so which has been given to them by their constitution.

The British constitution protects the rights of its citizen like any other country. Although the UK does not have written human rights laws or human safeguard laws but it has many precedents which make it compliant to these laws. Human rights in the UK include the right to life, rights against torture, rights against forced labor, and many many more. The Magna Carta of 1215 is the biggest example of UK human rights. The bill of rights 1689 is another example of human rights in the UK. It is a landmark act in the UK that gives its citizen civil rights. This act gave the United Kingdom citizen the freedom of speech. Before that, they were not allowed to talk against the monarch and were not allowed to protest. But after this bill was erected the Britishers got their civil rights.

No system in the world is perfect, every system as its pros and cons. The unwritten constitution of the United Kingdom is no exception. The main advantage of an unwritten constitution is that it is very flexible and dynamic. It can be changed very easily in comparison to the written form of the constitution like of the USA. They have been trying to change their Gun laws for a long time but they are unable to do so because of the written constitution. If the UK had gun laws like the USA then it would have been easier for the UK to change them. Another advantage of the UK’s constitution is that it can be changed according to the needs and demands of modern times. The world is changing day by day at a very high speed so it is easier for the UK to make changes to their laws according to the current situation. The UK constitution is described as a living constitution because it evolves and adapts to reflect changing social attitudes such as the same-sex Marriage Act 2013.

So as per disadvantage, the absence of a written constitution means that there is no single document to consult when there is any ambiguity in any law. So they need to look at the different judgments and other legal sources in order to find what they are looking for. The power of the legislature, executives, and judges is not clearly defined because of the unwritten constitution. So, there is sometimes ambiguity about where one institute’s power ends and the others start. There can be different numbers of interpretations of any law due to the lack of a single written constitution.

So, in the end, I just want to say that whether it is a written or unwritten constitution, both has their pros and cons. If the citizen of the UK does not want a written constitution then that’s their choice. Like in the USA, where the constitution is written (a single document) the people are very particular about their constitution and they give it the highest regard. They sometimes become more conservative when it comes to their laws and way of life, whereas in the UK people are more flexible and open-minded when it comes to their constitution and they can change any law with a majority vote anytime they want.

Bibliography

  1. The British Library. 2020. Britain's unwritten constitution - The British Library. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.bl.uk/magna-carta/articles/britains-unwritten-constitution#:~:text=Unlike%20most%20modern%20states%2C%20Britain,now%20have%20a%20written%20constitution.. [Accessed 10 October 2020].
  2. The UK vs US Constitution - Compare and contrast table in A Level and IB Government & Politics. 2020. The UK vs US Constitution - Compare and contrast table in A Level and IB Government & Politics. [ONLINE] Available at: https://getrevising.co.uk/grids/the-uk-vs-us-constitution#:~:text=The%20UK%20has%20an%20uncodified,UK%20has%20a%20Parliamentary%20constitution.. [Accessed 15 October 2020].
  3. BBC News. 2020. Why America's gun laws won't change - BBC News. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-12158148. [Accessed 17 October 2020].
  4. Strengths and weaknesses of the UK Constitution. 2020. Strengths and weaknesses of the UK Constitution. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.slideshare.net/PhilosophicalInvestigations/strengths-and-weaknesses-of-the-uk-constitution. [Accessed 19 October 2020].
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British Constitution Versus American Constitution: Comparative Analysis. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 16, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/british-constitution-versus-american-constitution-comparative-analysis/
“British Constitution Versus American Constitution: Comparative Analysis.” Edubirdie, 27 Dec. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/british-constitution-versus-american-constitution-comparative-analysis/
British Constitution Versus American Constitution: Comparative Analysis. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/british-constitution-versus-american-constitution-comparative-analysis/> [Accessed 16 Jul. 2024].
British Constitution Versus American Constitution: Comparative Analysis [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 27 [cited 2024 Jul 16]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/british-constitution-versus-american-constitution-comparative-analysis/
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