Britain’s ‘unwritten’ constitution

Today is Constitution Day in Spain. In Britain, however, there is not a similar day because Britain has an ‘unwritten’ constitution.

In most countries, including Spain, the constitution is written document. In Britain, however, there isn’t a written constitution.  In fact, Britain’s constitution is not completely written down at all.

The Britain’s constitution is a set of laws and rules that governs how the country is organized and the basic rights and freedoms of the people.  Some of it can be found in writing, for example, the Magna Carta of 1215 and the Bill of Rights of 1689. The Bill of Rights described specific constitutional and civil rights and ultimately gave Parliament power over the monarchy.  Also written down are the more modern Acts of Parliament.

Other parts of the constitution are considered common law and are made up of the decisions of judges over many hundreds of years in a system called legal precedence. Because of this, some people say that Britain has an ‘unwritten’ constitution.

Using the word ‘unwritten’ is a problem, because most British laws and rules are written as statutes, or court decisions, and in various treaties. Most of these laws come from the Parliament. Because most of the constitution is written down in this way, it is not really correct to call it unwritten. However, the phrase is still used.

There is another difference between Britain’s constitution and those of most other constitutions – it is just a normal set of laws. The constitution has no more authority than any other law in Britain, and the government can change it just by passing a new Act of Parliament. 

Adapted from Simple Wikipedia, Constitution of the United Kingdom

glossary

  • authority – la autoridad
  • common law – el derecho consuetudinario
  • court – el juzgado
  • freedom – la libertad
  • government – el gobierno
  • judge – el/la juez
  • law – la ley
  • rights – los derechos
  • rule – la regla
  • treaty – el tratado
  • unwritten – no escrito

cognates

Many words in English and Spanish are the same or very similar.  These are called cognates (cognados).

  • basic – básico
  • completely – completamente
  • consider – considerar
  • to govern – gobernar
  • Magna Carta – la Carta Magna
  • monarchy – la monarquía
  • parliament – el parlamento
  • phrase – la frase
  • precedence – la precedencia

Act of Parliament

A una ley ya aprobada por el Parlamento británico se la denomina Act of Parliament. Antes, cuando todavía es un proyecto de ley (bill), puede ser modificado tanto por la Cámara de los Comunes como por la de los Lores. Si ambas cámaras lo aprueban, se envía al monarca para que dé su aprobación (Royal Assent), aunque esto es una mera formalidad. Tras ello la ley ya es oficialmente un Act of Parliament, y pasa a formar parte de la legislación británica, reemplazando cualquier ley consuetudinaria (common law) que hubiera sobre ese asunto.

From Collins Dictionary

Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter
Share on email
Share on pinterest
Scroll to Top