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    Sunday, 12 March 2017

    Conventions of the British Constitution

    1. Nature of constitutional conventions
    Conventions 'are also called "unwritten laws," but this is very confusing because according to the generally accepted doctrine they are not laws at all. "Unwritten 'law" in our system is a term properly applied to the common law. Again conventions are sometimes called "customs."

    a. Definition
    Rules of political practice which are regarded as binding by thou to whom they apply, but which are not laws as they are not enforced by the courts or by the Houses of Parliament.

    b. Distinct of Constitutional Conventions
    This definition distinguishes constitutional conventions from

    i. Mere practice, usage, habit or fact, which is not regarded an obligatory, such as the existence of political parties (fact) or the habit of Chancellors of the Exchequer in carrying from Downing Street to the House of Commons a dispatch case supposed to contain his "Budget" speech.

    ii. Non-political rules; i.e. rules of conduct which are not referable to the needs of constitutional government, e.g. ethical or moral rules.

    iii. Judicial, rules of practice such as the rules of precedent: Lord Simon of Glaisdale referred to the current practice under which the''' House of Lords does not consider itself as bound by its own previous decisions as "one of those conventions which are so significant a feature of the British constitution, as professor 'Dicey showed in his famous work.

    iv. Rules enforced by the courts, i.e. laws judicial enforcement does not necessarily, or indeed usually, imply specific enforcement.

    v. Rules enforced by the Houses of Parliament through their officers, procedure and privilege (part of "law and custom of Parliament,": e.g. The Speaker and the Sergeant-at-Arms, notably parliamentary

    c. Purpose of constitutional conventions

    Conventions are a means of bringing about constitutional development without formal changes in the law. This they often do by regulating the exercise of a discretionary power conferred on the Crown by the law.

    Conventions also make the legal constitution work by providing means for co-operation in the practice of government. In particular, the Cabinet system co-ordinates the work of the various government departments among themselves, and promotes co-operation between the departments and Parliament and between the Ministry and the Queen.

    The ultimate object of most conventions is that public affairs should be conducted in accordance with the wishes of the majority of the electors. The reasons why the Ministry must be chosen from the party or parties enjoying a majority in the Commons are that, on the assumption that the majority of the Commons reflect the views of the majority of the electors.

    2. Why conventions are obeyed
    Conventions of the British Constitution act as backbone to the legal structure of this country. Deviation from certain conventions may create complications in the working of the governmental machinery.

    a. The business of government
    If the Queen appointed as Prime Minister someone who did not enjoy the confidence of the majority of the Commons, he and his colleagues could be defeated in the lower House.

    If a government after such defeat in the House declined to resign or ask for a dissolution, the Commons could paralyze the business of government by withholding supplies or refusing to agree to the continuance in force of the Army and Air Force.

    Even if a government succeeded in carrying on for a time in disregard of Parliament, it would cease to be in touch with the will of the electors and would forfeit their favor, assuming this had not been already lost by the recourse to extra-parliamentary government.

    Conventions act as keystone to the arch of government. A government has to resign, for instance, that ceases to command the confidence of the majority in the House of Commons. Deviation from this practice may shake the foundations of the entire superstructure of the parliamentary set-up.

    Violation of certain conventions may directly involve the breach of a law. Deviation from the usage, for example, according to which the Parliament is expected to meet at least once a year, may result in the failure of approval of budget, producing gross consequences in respect of the working of governmental machinery.

    b. Explicit objectives

    Explicit objectives of the constitution are fully compatible with certain conventions. Conventions are honored only if these stand operative to the realization of these objectives. Changes in the basic objectives, however, may diminish the utility of certain conventions, resulting in their abolition.

    c. Important Conventions
    i. The ruler does not veto the bills passed by the Parliament. Moreover, he can nominate new peers in order to counteract the opposition from the House of Lords.

    ii. The King/ Queen do not preside over the meetings of the Cabinet; this function is performed by the Prime Minister, hence making it possible to concentrate governmental responsibility in the Cabinet.

    iii. 'Prime minister and Finance minister, both are taken from the House of Commons.

    iv. The sovereign invites the leader of the majority party of the House of Commons, to form the Cabinet.

    v. The ruler does not normally turn down the advice of the Prime minister regarding the dissolution of the Parliament and holding of fresh elections. It is to be noted, that the Prime minister normally tenders such advice after no-confidence motion has been passed against the cabinet in the House of Commons.

    vi. Cabinet remains in power so long as it commands the confidence of the majority party within the House, otherwise it has to resign.

    vii. All the minister are collectively accountable to the House of Commons. The whole Cabinet has to resign in case of vote of no confidence has been passed against any of the Cabinet rank minister.

    viii. Parliament meets at least once a year. Moreover, every bills is given three readings within the Parliament before being translated into law.

    ix. The Speaker observes complete neutrality while presiding over the sessions of the House of Commons. He does not take part in the deliberation's nor casts' his vote except to break tie when the votes are equally divided.

    x. The Law-Lords participate in the, meetings of the House of Lords when it holds its session as a Court of Appeal, while other members remain absent.

    xi. All money bills originate in the House of Commons.

    xii. All civil servants of the Queen are tried in the same courts as ordinary citizens.

    xiii. Prime minister always keeps the Queen informed about all important decisions of the Cabinet. In addition, he acts as a link between the Cabinet and the Monarch.

    xiv. The Prime minister the agenda of the House of Commons in close collaboration with, the leader of the opposition.

    xv. Supremacy of the political sovereign (electorate), in fact, is based on conventions as the courts do not give this body legal recognition.

    d. Classification- of constitutional conventions
    Constitutional conventions may be classified into three main groups:
    i. relating to the exercise of the royal prerogative and the working of the Cabinet system;

    ii. regulating the relations between the Lords and Commons, and proceedings in Parliament; and

    iii. regulating the relations between the United Kingdom and the independent members of the Commonwealth.

    Obedience to law is based on solid rules whose violation is met with punishment. But violation of usages may not necessitate any punitive action.

    Laws are comparatively more .explicit and definite and specific institutions 'formally exist for rule-making, rule execution and rule enforcement. Conventions are in the nature of canons of constitutional morality.

    Laws are made consciously at a particular time; whereas- political usages have evolutionary growth and are the product of repeated actions.


    Theoretically speaking, a convention can be nullified by law and not vice versa. Public opinion, however,' can demand the repeal of any undesirable law.
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