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Saturday, November 05, 2016

Is our constitution under threat?

Unlike the United States of America the UK does not have a written constitution. Instead we rely on legal precedent and a series of Acts of Parliament, any one of which can upset the balance of the rights we have enjoyed for centuries. The attempts by successive governments to intrude on our privacy by extending legal surveillance is a good example of this.

Not having a written constitution also means that the subject is not taught in school in the same way as it is in the USA and people's understanding of the conventions on which our liberties are based is sketchy at best. On the basis of the latest controversy over a High Court ruling it appears that lack of understanding also applies to the media, MPs, leading politicians and many others on whom we rely to uphold and protect the British constitution.

The recent fuss over the ruling that the Government cannot use the Royal Prerogative to subvert an Act of Parliament and that MPs must vote on Article 50 has created an existential crisis for our constitution. The fact that the Government of the day is determined to press on and challenge what is a very clear and fair ruling on the basis that a referendum has narrowly given them carte blanche to act as they wish has echoes of some of the more dodgy dictatorships from the last century.

The role of the judiciary is in fact very clear in our unwritten constitution. They are an independent body of people who interpret and put into effect the laws that are passed by Parliament, who are in turn using their democratic mandate. In other words judges are not subverting the will of the people, they are putting it into effect.

No Government can pick and choose which laws it wants to obey and which rulings they agree with or not. To do so really is setting us on the path to dictatorship. That is why the silence of Justice Secretary, Liz Truss was so regrettable yesterday. It is her role to defend the judiciary and she failed to step up to the mark to do that.

When a Government seeks to subvert our constitution, override an Act of Parliament through the use of the Royal Prerogative and stays silent on criticism of judges doing their job, then we really are in the throes of a constitutional crisis.
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