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12. Judicial Review—An Introduction  

This chapter provides an introduction to the concept of judicial review. It discusses what judicial review is and is not about; the nature of administrative law; the relation of judicial review to three key themes crucial to understanding the modern British constitution—accountability, political and legal constitutionalism, and demarcation disputes in the multilayered constitution; and the constitutional basis of judicial review.

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13. Substantive Grounds of Judicial Review  

This chapter discusses the substantive grounds of judicial review: illegality, irrationality, and proportionality. Illegality covers the following: excess of power; the relevant/irrelevant considerations doctrine; unlawful delegation of power; unlawful fettering of power; and the estoppel doctrine. Irrationality is also concerned with the substantive content of a government decision, but focuses on the political or moral rather than (in the strict sense) legal character of the decision. Proportionality review can be defined as a constitutional device that requires the courts to accept that the boundaries of moral consensus within which government bodies are confined are discernibly less broad in substantive terms than those that apply in respect of irrationality-based review.

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6. The House of Lords  

This chapter examines whether the House of Lords plays an effective anti-majoritarian legislative role. The chapter begins by discussing the changing nature of the relationship between the Commons and the Lords in the post-revolutionary era, focusing in particular on the emergence in the early nineteenth century of a political presumption that the Lords was becoming the inferior partner within Parliament and on the passage of the Parliament Act 1911 in which legal force was given to that political presumption. The chapter also addresses the various proposals put forward in the modern era to reform both the composition and the powers of the House of Lords, and suggests that most reform plans present a paradox. The more we ask a second chamber to perform functions complementary to those of the Commons, the more we demand of its members that they be (as individuals and as a body) ‘expert’, ‘experienced’, and ‘nonpartisan’, and so the more we reveal the crushing dominance of party politics in the lower house, and the incapacity and/or unwillingness of backbench MPs to exert a restraining influence on government activities. This suggests that the key division within the legislative process is now not Lords versus Commons, nor Labour versus Conservative, but party versus national interest. The final part of the chapter explores a more obviously ‘legal’ question; namely the implications of the Parliament Act 1911 for traditional understandings of the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty.

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Cover Public Law Concentrate

1. Introduction to constitutional law  

Each Concentrate revision guide is packed with essential information, key cases, revision tips, exam Q&As, and more. Concentrates show you what to expect in a law exam, what examiners are looking for, and how to achieve extra marks. This chapter discusses the definition of constitutional law and the characteristics of the British Constitution. Constitutional law looks at a body of legal rules and political arrangements concerning the government of a country. A constitution may take the form of a document or set of documents which declare that a country and its chosen form of government legitimately exists. The British Constitution is largely unwritten, flexible in nature, and based on absolute parliamentary sovereignty. The UK is also a unitary state. There is a central government, as well as devolved legislative and executive bodies in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and England. It is also a constitutional monarchy. This means that the head of state is a king or queen and that they exercise their powers in and through a parliamentary system of government in which the members of the executive are accountable to a sovereign parliament.

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1. Defining the Constitution?  

This chapter identifies evaluative criteria that readers may wish to keep in mind when considering the description and analysis of the United Kingdom’s current constitutional arrangements presented in the rest of the book. The chapter begins by exploring what we might regard from a contemporary perspective as the essential features of the governmental systems adopted in a ‘democratic’ state. In order to illustrate the very contested nature of this concept of ‘democracy’, the chapter presents and analyses several hypothetical examples of what we might (or might not) regard as acceptable forms of governance, and explores the the notion of a country’s constitution being properly described as as a social and political contract formulated by its citizens. The chapter concludes by examining briefly the solutions adopted by the American revolutionaries to resolve the constitutional difficulties they faced when the United States became an independent country.

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Cover Public Law Directions

2. How the UK constitution has developed  

This chapter discusses the historical development of the UK constitution. The key to understanding the evolution of the British constitution is to imagine it being shaped by a dynamic ebb and flow of power between the key players—the monarch, Parliament, the Church, governments, judges—to determine the issue of where supreme power and authority would ultimately settle and reside. In the case of the UK, supreme authority settled in the monarch in Parliament, while political power resided with the executive. The chapter then argues that the constitution is fluid and changing, despite the received view that it has evolved slowly and peacefully without invasion or violent revolution. Despite fluctuations in power, and changes in Britain’s territorial composition and external alliances, there has always been a sense that the constitution is based on the collective memory of ancient laws and principles that fundamentally protect the people and cannot be changed.

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1. Introduction to Constitutional Fundamentals  

This first chapter examines the idea of a constitution as a text of fundamental importance and as a system of government. Constitution as ‘text’ and ‘system’ both set out how a country is and should be governed. The United Kingdom clearly has a constitution but it is not written down, or codified, in a single text. This is very unusual: almost every other country has a written codified constitution. The chapter explores the question why the United Kingdom has not adopted a codified text of its constitution and the consequences of this which include enabling aspects of the constitution to be easily changed while retaining the overall stability of the system.

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Mark Elliott and Robert Thomas

Public Law is an advanced text that comprehensively covers the key topics in the field of public law. The book presents an analysis of the law and institutions of public law, and places the legal issues within the wider socio-political context within which the constitution operates. Three key themes that permeate the content allow readers to approach the subject in a structured way. The key themes are the significance of executive power in the contemporary constitution and the challenge of ensuring that those who wield it are held to account, the shift in recent times from a political to a more legal constitution and the implications of this change, and the increasingly ‘multilayered’ character of the British constitution.

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10. Prerogative Powers  

This chapter examines the meaning and the continuing significance of prerogative powers. Prerogative powers are those that were originally exercised by the Monarch before the modern parliamentary system was established. While most prerogative powers have now been replaced by statutory powers, prerogative powers remain important in some contexts, especially in relation to the conduct of the United Kingdom’s foreign affairs. In this context the decision of the UK Supreme Court in R (Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union is of particular importance. The chapter is organized as follows. Section 2 considers the various legal foundations on which central government ministers may base their actions and compares prerogative and statutory powers. Section 3 examines prerogative power—a source of power possessed only by ministers in UK government and the monarch—in more detail. Section 4 considers the progress towards the reform of ministerial prerogatives.

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5. UK Central Government  

This chapter discusses what the executive branch of government is and what it does (with particular reference to the UK central government); how it relates to other branches of government (with particular reference to its relationship with Parliament); how it is held accountable, both politically and legally; the institutions and constitutional actors that make up the modern UK executive; and the considerable powers which it has at its disposal. It shows that the executive plays a pivotal role in the British constitution today, and that there are real concerns about whether it enjoys too much power—and about whether that power is subject to adequate oversight and control.

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14. Procedural Grounds of Judicial Review  

This chapter examines the procedural grounds of judicial review. It discusses how the courts have used the procedural fairness doctrine by reviewing a number of leading cases to identify the values that appear to be shaping the content of the law. The analysis focuses primarily on case law drawn from the ‘modern’ (ie post-1960) era, but several seminal decisions from earlier periods are also considered. The concept of procedural fairness has generated a vast body of case law in the modern era and will continue to do so in future. But the law on this point, even when seen in conjunction with the law relating to the traditional substantive grounds on which government action can be held unlawful, offers only a partial picture of the way in which administrative law fits into the broader constitutional principles of the rule of law and the sovereignty of Parliament.

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16. Locus Standi  

This chapter focuses on the concept of locus standi, perhaps the most important way in which administrative law deals with the question of how to balance the protection of individual citizens’ rights and interests with the desire to ensure that government decision-making remains within legal limits and that government bodies (including the courts) are protected from vexatious litigants. It is organised as follows. The first section addresses the law that existed prior to the introduction of the Order 53 reforms in 1977 whilst the second covers the short period between the introduction of those reforms and the House of Lords’ decision in IRC v National Federation of Self-Employed and Small Businesses. The third section runs from the mid-1980s to the present day. The pervasive analytical concerns are to explore the way the law of locus standi interacts with the question of the choice of procedure issues which were addressed in chapter fifteen, and—more broadly—to assess how those two matters both singly and in combination structure in a practical sense the way our constitution gives effect to the various values inherent in theories relating to the rule of law and sovereignty of Parliament.

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19. Human Rights III: The Human Rights Act 1998  

This chapter discusses the main provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) and considers its implications for the understandings attached to the core constitutional principles of parliamentary sovereignty, the rule of law, and the separation of powers. The chapter argues that the Blair government’s rapid and determined efforts to convince Parliament to pass the HRA demonstrates that members of the first New Labour administration did not share the simplistic view of democracy embraced by the Conservative Party during the judicial supremacism episode. The 1998 Act may be criticised on the basis that it transfers a dangerous amount of political power from the government to the judges, but the sentiments evinced by many Conservative MPs on this issue had little to commend them from a constitutional perspective.

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2. Parliamentary Sovereignty  

This chapter examines the ways in which parliamentary sovereignty has been both criticised and vindicated in more recent times, first discussing A V Dicey’s theory of parliamentary sovereignty, which has two parts—a positive limb and negative limb. The principle articulated in the positive limb of the theory is that Parliament can make or unmake any law whatsoever. The proposition advanced in the negative limb is that the legality of an Act of Parliament cannot be challenged in a court. The negative and positive limbs of Dicey’s theory offer a simple principle upon which to base an analysis of the constitution. The chapter then discusses the legal authority for the principle of parliamentary sovereignty and reviews challenges to Dicey’s theory.

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5. The House of Commons  

This chapter examines the relationship between the government and the House of Commons, in order further to develop arguments concerning the doctrines of parliamentary sovereignty and the separation of powers within the contemporary constitution. Consideration is given both to the role played by the House of Commons within the legislative process and its effectiveness as a means to provide scrutiny of and challenges to the ways in which the government exercises its statutory and prerogative powers. The chapter argues that, for most of the modern era, the House of Commons has been a body in which party politics is the dominant determinant both in the legislative process and in respect of executive accountability and asks if we should accept that the Commons is manifestly now a factional rather than national assembly for most purposes. But it is also suggested that it would be premature to conclude that the constitution permits factional concerns to determine both the content of legislation and the parliamentary accountability of government behaviour.

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14. Delegated Legislation  

This chapter is about delegated legislation, also called ‘subordinate’ and ‘secondary’ legislation. It considers why the constitution allows ministers (part of the executive) to make such legislation and the process by which it is made. It examines a case study on a controversial attempt by the government to abolish numerous institutions through powers conferred by the Public Bodies Act 2011.

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10. Local Government  

This chapter examines the institution of local government. This topic is often neglected in constitutional law studies, on the rather simplistic basis that since the United Kingdom is not in a legal sense a ‘federal country’ it is only the national governmental system that merits close attention. The suggestion made here is that analysis of the role played by local government institutions reveals a great deal about the nature of ‘democracy’ within our modern constitution. The chapter focuses in general terms on the evolution of ideas relating to localism, tradition, and the ‘modernisation’ of local government and on local government’s changing constitutional status during the course of the twentieth century. More specifically, the chapter examines trends in the institutional structure of the local government sector (and especially the abolition of the Greater London Council and metropolitan counties in the mid-1980s), developments relating to the fiscal autonomy of local government throughout that period, the role played by the judiciary in determining the limits of local government autonomy, and changes in one of the most important areas of local authority activity – the provision of council housing.

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17. Human Rights I: Traditional Perspectives  

In contrast to the constitutional systems adopted by most western democratic nations, the United Kingdom’s form of governance has traditionally not accepted the principle that certain ‘human rights’ should enjoy a normative legal status that placed them beyond the reach of laws made through the ordinary legislative process. Such ‘civil liberties’ or ‘human rights’ as we possess exist in law at the sufferance of parliamentary majorities. Human rights protection has nonetheless been an important part of the courts’ constitutional role, both in terms of the interpretation of legislation and the development of the common law. The organising principle in respect of civil liberties in Britain is that individuals may engage in any activity not prohibited by statute or common law. In addition, neither other individuals nor government officials may interfere with an individual’s legal entitlements unless they can identify a statutory or common law justification for so doing. This chapter discusses the traditional approach taken by Parliament and the courts to several key areas of what we would now regard as human rights law; the regulation of public protest, the protection of personal privacy, and to certain aspects of freedom of expression

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8. Parliamentary Privilege  

This chapter, which examines the so-called parliamentary privileges of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, begins by discussing Article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1689. It then explores over three hundred years of the history of parliamentary privilege in five general areas: (i) the houses’ power to regulate their own composition through the admission, retention, and expulsion of their members; (ii) the publication of details of house business; (iii) the admissibility before the courts of such published material; (iv) the concept of ‘contempt of the house’; and (v) the regulation of MPs’ ethical standards. The chapter also analyses several seminal cases in which the courts have adjudicated on both the nature and extent of parliamentary privilege and considers how case law in relation to this area of the constitution balances the sometimes competing concepts of the sovereignty of Parliament, the rule of law, and the separation of powers.

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9. Constitutional Conventions  

This chapter assesses the nature and purpose of constitutional conventions. The discussions cover the concepts of collective and individual ministerial responsibility; the relationship between the Monarch and her Ministers; the relationship between convention, statute, and the common law; the ‘Ponsonby rule’ and the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. It is argued that the concentration of effective political power is often very intense, even within a political party; small groups of senior Ministers or even the Prime Minister alone may occasionally be, to all intents and purposes, ‘elected dictators’.