Outlines of the British Constitution.

Part I.

SOVEREIGNTY.—Legally vested in the British Parliament—i.e., Queen, Lords, and Commons—with a strong tendency to recognize the people represented by a majority of the electors as the body in which the ultimate political sovereignty resides; to be gathered from various Charters, Patents, Writs, Ordinances, Statutes, Acts, Proclamations, legal decisions, and established customs.


GOVERNMENT.—Powers exercised by one set of Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Departments:—

  • (1) The Executive Department.—Presided over by the Queen, acting for the most part on the advice of Ministers of State responsible to Parliament. (The Queen's title—Act of Settlement, 12 and 13 Wm. III. c. 2.)
  • (2) The Legislative Department.—Power vested theoretically in the Queen, acting on the advice and with the consent of the Lords spiritual and temporal and the Commons; practically in the Queen in Parliament. The Queen—Her part in the convening, proroguing, dissolving Parliament; in recommending legislation; her right to assent to or disallow Bills passed by the Lords and Commons. The Lords Spiritual and Temporal—The House of Lords, composed of (1) hereditary Peers, (2) Elective Peers, i.e., those who represent the peerage of Ireland and Scotland, and (3) peers of office, such as Bishops of the Church of England. Power of the House of Lords theoretically equal to that of the Commons with certain exceptions, such as control of the Executive and the alteration of Money Bills. Title of the House of Lords, immemorial customs, charters, writs, and Acts of Parliament. The House of Commons—Composed of Representatives elected by the people according to electoral laws passed from time to time. Power of the House of Commons in the initiation of legislation unrestricted, except for the constitutional principle that it may not originate a grant of money or a tax except upon receipt of a message from the Crown recommending the same. Control of Ministers. Title of the House of Commons—charters, writs, recognized and ratified by Acts of Parliament.

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  • (3) Judicial Department.—Power vested in the Queen, but exercised by Judges appointed by the Crown during good behaviour, but subject to be removed on an Address from both Houses of Parliament. Jurisdiction—to interpret the common law and the law of Parliament, but not to question validity of the latter. Security of tenure—Act of Settlement, 12 and 13 Wm. III. c. 2, and subsequent legislation.

Part III.

RIGHTS, PRIVILEGES, AND IMMUNITIES.—Contained in numerous charters, confirmations of charters, and Acts of Parliament assented to by the Crown from the earliest period of English history, including Magna Charta (1215); the Petition of Rights (1627), 3 Char. I. c. 1; the Habeas Corpus Act (1640), 16 Char. I. c. 10; the Bill of Rights (1688), 1 Wm. and Mary c. 2; and the Act of Settlement (1700), 12 and 13 Wm. III. c. 2. The Bill of Rights is of special interest as declaring that certain recited rights are “the true ancient and indubitable rights and liberties of the people to be firmly and strictly holden and observed in all times to come.”

Part IV.

COLONIES.—The Acts 18 Geo. III., c. 12, and 28 and 29 Vic. c. 63, are the charters of Colonial Independence. By the first it is promised that the British Parliament will not impose any duty, tax, or assessment whatever, payable in any part of His Majesty's colonies, provinces, plantations, in North America or in the West Indies. The latter Act is known as the Colonial Laws Validity Act, 1865, and provides that no colonial law shall be deemed to be void or inoperative on the ground of repugnancy to the law of England, unless it is repugnant to the provisions of an Imperial Act specially applicable to the colony in which such colonial law was passed.

Part V.

AMENDMENT.—No limitation upon the power of the British Parliament to alter the Constitution; it may legally be amended by the ordinary process of Legislation; but the House of Lords—the last stronghold of resistance to constitutional innovation—is under no constitutional obligation to yield to any demand of the House of Commons until the voice of that House has been confirmed by its constituents at a general election.