chapter  5
18 Pages


5.1 Introduction

In the absence of a codified constitutional document in the UK (see above, 1.7.2 and 2.2), generations of law students have been introduced to the constitutional system primarily through the use of textbooks. For better or worse, one long dead textbook writer, Professor Albert Dicey, continues to have a firm foothold in many expositions of the British Constitution by present day writers, and even in the speeches of a few politicians (see above, 4.2). No doubt some modern writers overemphasise the relevance of his thinking to present day conditions. It is something of an exaggeration to say of his best known book, An Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (1st edn, 1885, London: Macmillan), that ‘Dicey’s word has in some respects become the only written constitution we have’ (Jowell, J and Oliver, D (eds), The Changing Constitution, 3rd edn, 1994, Oxford: OUP, p v). What is not in doubt, however, is that his analysis still acts as an important point of reference. Questions about this ‘Dicey phenomenon’ should cross the minds of inquisitive students soon after they begin their studies. Are the views of this one professor of law really so important that, over 100 years after its first publication, his book continues to be on students’ reading lists? How can Dicey’s work still be relevant to the modern constitution? We need, therefore, to conclude the search for the source of principles by providing a brief critical assessment of what Dicey said about the British Constitution. This book, like many others, will return to Dicey’s views, especially in relation to three features of the constitution – parliamentary sovereignty, the rule of law and constitutional conventions. The purpose of the present chapter is to provide an overview of Dicey’s thinking on these matters.