HomeA Level Politics BlogIn the NewsIs it time for the UK to adopt a codified constitution?

Is it time for the UK to adopt a codified constitution?

The UK’s constitution is unique in being uncodified. This has many effects on how the government can change the law and extent to which they are held to account. and the principles on which the government and parliament are based are also affected by this. The main differences between codified and uncodified constitutions are:

Table showing comparison of codified and uncodified constitutions

There have been many arguments in recent years over whether the UK should adopt a codified constitution. As part of the A Level course, you may also have to answer a question on codification. So, should it happen?

Arguments for and against codifying the constitution

YES: Protection of Human Rights
The constitution protects and safeguards individual and minority rights to a limited extent. Laws including the Human Rights Act and Equality Act have extended human rights within the UK. However, since these laws lack entrenchment, they can be removed by a future government. Under a codified constitution, parliament would not be able to pass any laws that offend human rights protection.

YES: Executive Power & Judiciability
Codification would prevent an over-powerful executive by constraining the power in a rigid, entrenched document. In the example of the 2019 Supreme Court case between Gina Miller and the UK Government, there would be clear guidelines as to whether an executive had acted unlawfully. Furthermore, since the constitution would be judicible, judges would be able to rule over the constitutionality of laws passed by the government, thus providing more clear and effective checks and balances.

NO: Flexibility
Westminster is known as the ‘mother of all parliaments’, and it is known across the world for its procedure and traditions. The UK constitution is able to adapt to conditions of the day, such as rapid legislation being passed in early 2020 to give emergency powers to the executive to fight coronavirus. In the context of conservatism, Edmund Burke’s theory of change to conserve plays here, with quick and small Acts of law having a greater degree of power than large constitutional reforms that can take months or years to come to fruition. Constitutional laws are no different to statute laws in the UK.

NO: A large reform for little benefit
The UK constitution has proved to be effective for many generations previously. For the above points, human rights are already protected by Acts of Parliament, the power of the executive is already limited by parliamentary scrutiny and free and fair elections, and the judiciary is (in theory) neutral and independent meaning it should not influence government decisions.

Exam Questions

AQA: ‘The UK would be better served with a codified constitution.’ Analyse and evaluate this statement. [25]
Edexcel: Evaluate the view that the UK now requires a codified constitution. [30]

Further Reading about reforming the constitution

King’s College London report into whether codification should occur
Student report on codification
Study Politics’ UK Government YouTube Playlist