Written constitution

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A written constitution is a document setting out a state's legal framework and, perhaps, defining and limiting the powers of the government.

The United Kingdom does not have such a document, for better or for worse. It does, however, have a number of 'ordinary' legal instruments that are treated by the courts as having some constitutional status. For example, the European Communities Act (1972) imports into English law vast swathes of EU legislation. In principle, an Act of Parliament passed later than 1972 should take precedence over it, in accordance with the usual conventions of statutory interpretation. However, the courts have frequently upheld the 1972 Act, despite later contradictory enactments. If they did not do this, the UK would be in breach of its obligations under the EC Treaty. All the same, this practice is unusual, to say the least, in UK courts. In short, the 1972 Act has achieved a constitutional status beyond that of other enactments made in the same way. There are a number of other enactments that are, or probably would be, treated by the courts in the same way. Rules that can generously be classed as constitutional may be found in other written sources as well. A good example is Erskine May’s Parliamentary Practice.

Public Law