chapter
9 Pages

Characteristics of our constitution

One of the central characteristics of our constitution, according to Professor A V Dicey, is our adherence to the concept of the rule of law. The importance of the rule of law lies in its ability to curtail the arbitrary exercise of power via the subjection of all to legal rules which are impartially enforced. In The Rule of Law in Britain Today (1989) the Constitutional Reform Centre noted that:

But such a stringent definition is too narrow in that even within our common law system the State may be seen to occupy a special position. Those who are unhappy with the limitations posed by Dicey’s definition offer wider definitions which centre, such as in the Declaration of Delhi 1959, upon respect for fundamental human rights. This, however, presents a problem for our constitution, for it is one of the claims of our common law system that we protect civil liberties without explicit reference to basic rights in a positive form. The late 1940s and early 1950s saw the UK committing itself to protecting human rights, formulated in positive terms, under the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights but neither have been incorporated into our domestic law (a matter explored in greater detail in Chapter 5).