The constitution, labelled a parliamentary democracy, comprises the Queen as head of state and the three traditional branches of government: legislature (Parliament), executive (known as ‘the Crown’, but popularly referred to as ‘government’) and judiciary. Building on historical evolution, the legal part of the constitution is based on parliamentary supremacy. The Crown is the source of all legal power but cannot make law, create courts, raise an army, or impose taxes without the consent of Parliament. The Crown must summon Parliament regularly and cannot dissolve Parliament without its consent. Griffith summarised the basic legal position as follows: Governments of the United Kingdom may take any action necessary for the proper government of the United Kingdom as they see it, subject to two limitations. The first limitation is that they may not infringe the legal rights of others unless expressly authorised to do so under statute or the prerogative. The second limitation is that if they wish to change the law, whether by adding to their existing power or otherwise, they must obtain the consent of Parliament. (‘The Political Constitution’ (1979) 42 MLR 15) From the perspective of the ‘political constitution’, the effect of an interlocking series of conventions is to ensure that the legal powers of the monarch are exercised in accordance with modern ideas of responsible parliamentary government. The powers of the Crown are exercisable by or on the advice of ministers. This chapter will summarise the most basic principles of the constitution. The more important topics relating to the central government and the judicial system are developed and discussed in later chapters of this book.
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