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Old Thursday, December 01, 2005
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Default British Parliament

Unwritten Constitution (British Constitution)


English Constitution, organic law of the United Kingdom providing for the form and powers of government. It is rooted in historic traditions and principles of liberty, which, in many respects, antedate the promulgation of the Magna Carta in 1215, and which, since the 19th century, have been held to affirm popular sovereignty.

Unlike the U.S. Constitution and most other constitutions, the English constitution is not a systematic written statement of law, but consists of a body of statutory law, customs, and judicial interpretations; it is frequently called a customary or unwritten constitution. As an example, English law makes no provision for so essential a feature of the British government as the cabinet, which originated in the 15th century as an advisory council to the king, and developed, in connection with the rise of representative government, to its present status as the executive branch of the government. Unlike constitutions that make explicit provision for their amendment and are often difficult to change, the English constitution may be changed easily. It may be altered, and in the past it has been altered, through the slow accretion of custom, by an act of Parliament, or by judicial interpretation.

Historians emphasize the antiquity and flexibility of the English constitution. Its uninterrupted development may be traced over a period of more than 900 years, from the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066. Throughout this period it remained adaptable, serving in turn the needs of medieval society and the rule of the bourgeoisie who established representative government and the former British Empire. It is now compatible with such recent liberal measures as comprehensive social insurance and the nationalization of basic industries and the Bank of England. See also British Political and Social Thought.

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