Book chapter: The principle of parliamentary sovereignty in legal, constitutional and political perspective

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I have just finished work on a book chapter entitled “The Principle of Parliamentary Sovereignty in Legal, Constitutional and Political Perspective”, the abstract for which is as follows:

Parliamentary sovereignty has long been regarded — by most, at least — as an axiomatic feature of the United Kingdom’s constitutional arrangements. The orthodox view holds that the UK Parliament has authority that is unlimited in domestic law, meaning that it is legally free to enact any legislation it wishes. However, precisely what parliamentary sovereignty means — and, ultimately, whether it accurately describes the reality of Parliament’s relationship with other institutions — is a less cut-and-dried matter than orthodox accounts may suggest. This chapter examines the sovereignty of Parliament by reference to phenomena that may be considered to sit uncomfortably with it. In particular, devolution, British membership of the European Union, the UK’s being a party to the European Convention on Human Rights and common-law constitutional principles are addressed. The implications for parliamentary sovereignty of these matters are examined not only in legal, but also constitutional and political, perspective. The conclusion is reached that different pictures are revealed when legal and other lenses are applied, and that whether — and, if so, to what extent —political and constitutional forms of constraint may sound in the legal realm is inherently uncertain. Such uncertainty concerning the extent of Parliament’s legislative authority reflects a necessary tension between the judicial and political branches, the unresolved nature of that tension evidencing a form of institutional comity that is imperative to the functioning of an unwritten constitutional system.

The chapter will appear in the eighth edition of Jeffrey Jowell, Dawn Oliver and Colm O’Cinneide (eds), The Changing Constitution. The book will be published by Oxford University Press in 2015.

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