This post is aimed mainly at those who attended my recent talk at the Cambridge Sixth Form Law Conference on “The UK’s (unusual) constitution”. The talk’s point of departure was Lord Neuberger’s recent (and surprising) suggestion that the UK has no constitution. I argued that this goes too far, but that the UK’s constitution is certainly unusual. Using the status of human rights generally, and the prisoner-voting case as a particular example, I explained that the UK’s constitution is unusual both because it is “unwritten” (in the sense that there is no single text that we regard as “The Constitution”) and “flat” (in the sense that the status of constitutional law is not hierarchically-superior to other, regular law). I went on to explain, however, that to approach such matters only through the domestic legal prism of parliamentary sovereignty may be misleading, and that other considerations – including the constraining forces of politics and of international law – must be factored in if we are accurately to understand the nature of the modern British constitution.
I have uploaded the slides that accompanied my talk to Scribd:
If you want to do some further reading, here are some suggestions. First, you might like to read chapter one – which can be accessed free-of-charge online – of the soon-to-be-published second edition of Elliott & Thomas, Public Law (OUP 2014). You might also want to read the following posts on this blog which touch on themes that were addressed in the lecture:
- Is Lord Neuberger right to suggest that that UK “has no constitution”?
- The three dimensions of the relationship between UK law and the ECHR
- Law, rights and constitutional politics: reflections on the Human Rights Act’s past and future
- The constitutional role of the judiciary if there were a codified constitution
- Repealing the Human Rights Act: what might lie ahead?
Finally, here are links to the main sources I referred to in my lecture:
- Lord Neuberger’s lecture
- European Convention on Human Rights
- Protocol 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights
- Representation of the People Act 1983
- Human Rights Act 1998
- European Court of Human Rights information sheet on prisoner-voting cases
- Judgment of ECtHR Grand Chamber in Hirst v UK (No 2)
- Report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill