In the UK we have an uncodified constitution, which is famous for its flexibility. It consists of both written and unwritten sources and has no single written fundamental document. The UK constitution has been criticised for its lack of origin, namely by Adam Tomkins, a Tutor in Law at Catherine’s College, Oxford who described it as ‘a curious admixture of a variety of times’ in 2001.
Firstly, the UK’s constitution is too easy to amend in a sense that there is no apparent distinction between ‘constitutional law’ and ‘ordinary law’. Moreover, there are no special procedures attached to revising the constitution as one of the main sources of our constitution, statute law, is sufficient. For example, the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act in 2001 was passed through the House of Commons and Lords but in actual fact was incompatible with the Rule of Law as it promoted arbitrary discrimination. This shows the flaw in the constitution’s flexibility as this piece of statute law was passed without proper review.
Secondly, the guidelines on certain specific areas of the UK constitution are unclear and open to an amount of interpretation and therefore it may be described as vague. For instance, the convention of individual ministerial responsibility requires that ministers are responsible for blunders made by their departments. This is an area of scepticism as there is debate on whether this means that they should resign when civil servants make mistakes or when the minister makes mistakes. Further, there is confusion over whether ‘responsibility’ implies that anyone has to resign, or just that the minister has to provide answers and promise to put mistakes right. It is difficult to escape the idea that the constitution may be made up as we go along.
Furthermore, we must consider the role of elective dictatorship when assessing the weaknesses of the UK constitution. Elective dictatorship is a constitutional imbalance in which executive power is checked only by the need of governments to win elections. In the UK it is reflected by the way in which the government may act as it pleases as long as it maintains control of the House of Commons. Sovereign power is vested in the hand of Parliament, however, with elective dictatorship, Parliament is routinely controlled by the government of the day and allows them to shape and reshape the constitution. For example, the Legislative Regulatory reform Bill of 2006 proposed to give government the right to introduce primary binding legislation of its own, which violates Parliamentary Sovereignty. After being passed by the House of Commons it was blocked by the House of Lords.
A further target of criticism has been that the UK has an overcentralized system of government with weak or ineffective checks and balances. One of the key features of liberal democracy is that government power is limited through internal tensions between and amongst government bodies. However, UK government is characterised more by the concentration of power than its fragmentation. This can be seen through the way in which the PM tends to dominate cabinet, how the executive usually controls Parliament and how central government usually controls local government. However, this has been controlled relatively well since 1997 with Blair introducing a number of constitutional reforms. For example, the devolution of power in Scotland and Wales transferred a degree of central power from Westminster and distributed it on a local level.
Finally, the UK constitution provides weak protection for individual rights and civil liberties. This is, in part, a consequence of elective dictatorship but the fact is that there is nothing that forces the government to respect individual freedom and basic rights. For instance, the Human Rights Act passed in 1998 was largely ineffective as it stops well short of being an entrenched bill of rights. Its provisions have been set-aside in the past by Parliament, for instance, over terrorism legislation in 2001.
In conclusion, due to the fact that we have an uncodified constitution there is much room for interpretation and the way that it is not entrenched gives way to a degree of scepticism. However, to some extent our constitution is set in stone best explained by A.V. Dicey when he explained that government cannot unilaterally change constitutional principles.