British Constitution

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British Constitution

1 Read and translate the text
The Nature of the Constitution
In England there is no one document or fundamental body of law that can be described as a “constitution”. The absence of any such document or of any distinction between public and private law has led to the suggestion that there is no constitution in England. Certainly the English constitution has no existence apart from the ordinary law; it is indeed part of that very law. The Magna Carta, the Petition of Right, the Habeas Corpus Act, the Bill of Rights, and the Act of Settlement are the leading enactments; but they are in no sense a constitutional code; and, without a host of judicial decisions, other statutes of much less importance, and a mass of custom and convention, these statutes would be unworkable.

The sources of English constitutional law are statutes, judicial precedent, textbooks, law books, the writings of historians and political theorists, the biographies and autobiographies of statesmen, the columns of every serious newspaper, the minutiae of every type of government record and publication. This is what is meant by saying the English Constitution is “unwritten”: it is not formally enacted; its rules have to be sought out in a dozen fields, not in any one code.

Similarly, it is flexible, and here the contrast is with a rigid constitution. There are no special safeguards for constitutional rules; constitutional law can be changed, amended, or abolished just like any rule of private law; there is no field in which Parliament is forbidden to legislate; there are no fundamental or unalterable ideologies and no procedures to prescribe delay or extra processes for constitutional change.

1. Answer these questions.
1. What is the structure of the British Constitution?

2. Why is the British Constitution considered to be flexible?

3. What are the sources of English constitutional law?

4. What is the difference between written and unwritten constitutions?

5. In your opinion, how can mass media participate in developing the British Constitution?
2 Are these statements T(true) or F(false).
1 The English Constitution has nothing to do with the ordinary law.

2 The Magna Carta is not a constitutional code.

3 The sources of English Constitution are unknown.

4 The English Constitution is formally enacted.

5 There is a sharp difference between the English Constitution and a rigid constitution.

6 The English constitutional law can never be changed.
Language focus
1 Match the following English expressions containing the term “law” with the Russian equivalents.
1. public law a судебное право

2. private law b конституционное право/закон

3. ordinary law c специальный закон

4. constitutional law d публичное право, публичный закон

5. fundamental law e основной закон, основные принципы права

6. judicial law f право, осуществляемое в обычном порядке

7. unwritten law g частное право, частный закон

8. special law h неписаное право
2 Choose the correct alternative to complete the sentences.
1. The sources of English constitutional law are:

a Roman law and Napoleon Code

b statutes, judicial precedents, etc.

c the Ten Commandments.
2. The rules of the British Constitution have to be sought out

a in one code

b in a dozen of newspapers and magazines

c in many different fields.
3. The British constitutional law

a can’t be changed

b can be amended

c can’t be described.
4. In England there is no distinction between

a the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights

b a constitutional code and the Act of Settlement

c private and public law.
5. The British Constitution is

a flexible

b written

c rigid.
3. Match the words with their definitions.
1. enactment a previous case taken as example for subsequent cases
2. code b a written law of a legislative body
3. precedent c making ( a bill ) a law

4. statute d systematic collection of statutes, body of laws so arranged as to

avoid inconsistency and overlapping; set of rules on any subject

2. The Political System

The United Kingdom is a constitutional (or parliamentary) monarchy, without a written constitution. The British constitution is based on Acts of Parliament (also called "laws" or "statutes") and "conventions", which are commonly accepted assumptions about the way things should be done. The British Constitution provides for three branches of power: Parliament, which makes laws, the government, which 'executes' laws, i.e. puts them into effect, and the law courts, which interpret laws. The country has a monarch a king or a queen) as its Head of State. The monarch has. very little power and can only reign with the support of parliament Parliament consists of ' two chambers known as the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Parliament and the monarch have different roles in the government of the country, and they only meet together on symbolic occasions such as the coronation of a new monarch or the opening of Parliament. In reality, the House of Commons is the only one of the three which has true power. It is here that new bills are introduced and debated. If the majority of the members are in favour of a bill it goes to the House of Lords to be debated arid finally to the monarch to be signed. Only then does it become law. Although a bill must be supported by all three bodies, the House of Lords only has limited powers, and the monarch has not refused to sign one since the modern political system began over 200 years ago.

The Monarch
The Queen has a certain role in state affairs, not only through her ceremonial functions, such as opening Parliament, but also because she meets the Prime Minister every week and receives copies of all Cabinet papers.

Functions of the Sovereign are as follows:

  • opening and closing Parliament;

  • approving of the appointment of the Prime Minister;

  • giving her Royal Assent to bills;

  • giving honoures such as peerages, knighthoods and medals;

  • Head of the Commonwealth;

  • Head of the Church of England;

  • Commander-in-Chief of the armed Forces.

The powers of the monarch are not defined precisely,, however." Theoretically every act of government is done in the Queen's name — every letter sent out by a government department is marked "On Her Majesty's Service"—and she appoints all the Ministers, including the Prime Minister, tifcf In reality, everything is done on the advice of the elected Government, and the Monarch takes no part in the decision - making process.
1 Answer these questions.

  1. What branches of power does the British Constitution establish?

  2. What elements does the British Parliament consist of?

  3. How many elected members are there in the House of Commons?

  4. What is the main purpose of the House of Commons?

  5. Who presides in the House of Commons?

Law-making Process in the UK

It is common knowledge that there is no written constitution in Great Britain, and the laws of the country are not listed within a single document. That is why law-making has special significance, as each new Act of Parliament represents a new page in the country's constitution.

The law undergoes constant reform in the courts as established principles are interpreted, clarified or reapplied to meet new circumstances.

In the UK laws made by Parliament are known as Statute Laws. Every year Parliament passes about 100 laws directly by making Acts of Parliament.

No new law can be made by Parliament unless it has completed a number of stages in both Houses of Parliament and received the Royal Assent. Only after the Royal Assent does it become a new law or Act of Parliament. Before this, while it is still journeying through Parliament, it is called a Bill.

Stages of a Government Bill
A Government Bill has to pass through several stages in Parliament, each having a clear purpose. Most stages are known as 'readings' because in the days before printing, the only way in which Members could find out what a Bill said was by having the contents read out in each Chamber.
The House of Commons
First Reading (Introducing a Bill)

The First Reading is a way of letting Members know that a Bill is coming up for discussion. There is no vote on the First Reading, so a Bill automatically goes through that stage. Then it is printed so that Members have a chance to read it and decide what they think about it. Explanatory notes are often published to accompany the Bill.

Second Reading (Explaining the purpose of the Bill)

This is an important stage of a Bill, when its main purpose is explained and general questions are answered by the Minister in charge.

Committee Stage (Looking at the details)

It is during the Committee Stage, that MPs are, for the first time, allowed to examine all the detail of a Bill and suggest some changes or amendments to it. Most Government Bills are considered by small committees of between 15 and 50 MPs known as Standing Committees.

Often a Bill which has constitutional significance or requires a very rapid passage will be heard by a Committee of the Whole House, i.e. in the Chamber, so that all Members can contribute.
Report Stage (Further consideration and changes by the whole House)

After the Committee Stage, the whole House of Commons has to be told what changes have been instituted since only a small number of Members are involved in the committee meetings. If there have been amendments, the Bill will be reprinted before the Report Stage so that Members could see how the changes fit into the Bill as a whole. MPs can suggest further changes if they want to. The Report Stage is not necessary if the Bill has been considered by a Committee of the Whole House.

Third Reading (Overall examination of the Bill)

At this stage the House of Commons is given a chance to look again at the Bill as a whole, with all its amendments, and decide whether it should go any further. The Bill cannot be changed substantially at this stage – it is either accepted or rejected. Once a Bill has passed its Third Reading in the Commons, it is forwarded to the House of Lords for further consideration.

The House of Lords
To spread legislative workload more evenly between the two Houses a sizeable proportion of all Bills begins in the House of Lords. By convention the Lords do not reject legislation on matters which were in the Government's manifesto (election pledge). The Act of 1949 provides that any Public Bill passed by the Commons in two successive parliamentary sessions and rejected both times by the Lords, may be presented for the Royal Assent, even though it has not been passed by the Lords. The Lords, therefore, can only delay the passage of a Public Bill, they cannot reject it.

The Lords cannot make changes to a Money Bill (although it can delay Money Bills for one month). It is the House of Commons which is elected by the public that should make the decisions on the amount of taxes people have to pay and the like.

The stages of a Bill in the House of Lords are pretty much the same as those in the House of Commons.

Any changes made to a Bill in the House of Lords have to be considered in the House of Commons, for which purpose they are taken back to the lower chamber. The Commons normally accept most of the Lords’ amendments which are non-controversial.


1 Answer these questions.
1 How is the UK Constitution being developed through making new laws?

2 What circumstances initiate new legislation?

3 What are the ways of making a new law?

4 What is the essence of law-making in Parliament?

5 What are the reasons for Bills to be sent to committees?

6 Under which circumstances can an amendment be withdrawn?

7 Where is a new legislation initiated?

8 In what way does the Committee stage in the House of Lords differ from that in the House of Commons?

9 Why are Lord’s powers over Money Bills restricted?

10 What is the role of the Royal Assent in making a law?
2 Decide which of the statements (a, b or c) corresponds exactly to the meaning of the text and best completes each statement.
1 Parliament sometimes passes a very general law and

a) leaves it as it is

b) leaves the relevant minister to fill in the details

c) leaves it for the House of Lords to fill in the details.
2 No new law can be made by Parliament unless it

a) has been approved by Prime Minister

b) has passed through Parliament and received the Royal Assent

c) is popular with the public.

  1. Most stages through which a Government Bill has to pass are known as “readings” because

a) during the discussion of a Bill MPs like to read newspapers

b) only the reading of a Bill but not its discussion is allowed in the Parliament

c) the contents of each bill is read out in each Chamber.
4 If the Bill has been considered by a Committee of the Whole House

a) the Report Stage is not necessary

b) the further consideration is necessary

c) the Report Stage is delayed.
5 During the third reading the House of Commons decides

a) whether the Bill should be changed substantially

b) whether the Bill should be accepted or rejected

c) whether the Bill should go to the Royal Assent.
6 Lords cannot reject a Public Bill because

a) the Act of 1949 provides it

b) the Queen forbids it

c) the Human Rights Act of 1998 provides it.

7 The members of both Houses know that the Royal Assent to a Bill has been given

a) from the Queen herself

b) from a document the Queen sends by mail

c) from certain Lords who inform them.

The Prime Minister and the Cabinet

There are two major British institutions in the executive Government. All the politicians who have been appointed by the monarch (on the advice of the Prime Minister) help run the country through Government Departments. The other institution includes the most powerful of these politicians namely the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. Most of them are Heads of Government Departments.

The Prime Minister is the most senior officer of Her Majesty's Government.

The Prime Minister's main responsibilities include: running the Government; appointing Cabinet Ministers and other ministers; coordinating the activities of the Cabinet and Government Departments; appointing judges, creating Life Peers and making appointments to senior positions in the Church of England; leading the majority party; being the 'face' of the Government in the UK and abroad.

The Prime Minister is technically appointed by the Monarch. The appointment takes place after the results of a General Election indicate which political party wins the majority of seats in the House of Commons. After a General Election, the Queen calls upon the leader of the largest party to officially appoint him to a post of a Prime Minister, who then forms the Government and the Cabinet.

The Cabinet is composed of about 20 ministers, although the number can vary.

The functions of the Cabinet are to initiate and decide on policy, to exercise the supreme control of the Government and to coordinate Government Departments.

Departmental ministers normally decide all matters within their responsibility. However, on important political matters they usually consult their colleagues collectively, either through the Cabinet or through a Cabinet committee. A decision by a departmental minister binds the Government as a whole.

Cabinet ministers are responsible for their departments, but the Cabinet as a whole is accountable to Parliament for its actions, and its individual members must be willing and able to publicly defend the Cabinet's policies both in the Commons and before the general public. The loss of a vote of confidence or the defeat of a major legislative bill in the Commons can mean a Cabinet's fall from power and the collective resignation of its members. Despite the need for consensus and collective action within a Cabinet, ultimate decision-making power rests with the Prime Minister as the leader of his party.

Answer these questions.
1 What are the major functions of the Prime Minister in the UK?

2 How does the Prime Minister take office?

3 How is the Cabinet formed?

4 What are the functions of the Cabinet?

5 How does the committee system ease the workload of the Cabinet?

6 What are individual ministers within the Cabinet responsible for? How is the Government accountable to the people?

7 Who holds the ultimate decision-making power in the Government?

Sources of Common Law

Laws are traditionally divided into two main categories: written and unwritten. The mean if the law is enacted, i.e. the rule was established legislatively.

In most continental countries written law is predominant. In England on the contrary the volume of unwritten law prevails, though some areas of law are codified.

While speaking about English system of law it is of great importance to mention four sources of English law: two principal (Legislation and Judicial precedent) and two subsidiary ones (Custom and Book of Authority).

Legislation is an enacted law. In England the ultimate legislator is Parliament. There is a so called doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, that means all legislative power is vested in Parliament and no legal limit to the power of Parliament exists.

Although, Parliament is a sovereign in the legislative sphere, the courts may influence upon the development of written law, because every enactment has to be interpreted by the courts.

But the main role of the courts in establishing of sources of law is the development of Precedent, and this process is different in Continental and Angle-Saxon, systems of law.

In Anglo-Saxon system its rules and regulations have been evolved inductively from decision to decision. While in Continental law the task of courts is deductive: to subsume the present case under the mantle of the generalized and codified rule. So we can see that the position of the judge in English legal system is central for he has power to make new laws.

Another salient feature of the Common law system is the doctrine of the binding case. The authority of the courts is hierarchical, a court which is interior in authority is obliged to follow (bound by) the decisions of a superior court.

But the process of providing Justice in England is not as simple as following the previous decisions of courts, for often there are several different decisions on the cases which are very alike and it is up to the judge to choose which of the precedents to use.

Further, cases of first impression sometimes arise, i.e. the facts of the cases bear no resemblance to the facts of any previous case.

It is also important to mention, that the judges do not choose precedent in an arbitrary way. They rest their decisions upon the general principles enshrined in case law as a whole.

Customs are social habits, patterns of behavior, which evolved in the society without any legal formulation. They are very important for the development of law for it was originally based upon the custom. But today it is not used as a principal source of law. But some customs are still recognized by the courts and precedents may be set upon them.

Books of authority are the writings of legal authors. They are important source of law on the Continent. But in England they are only referred to in court or cited if cited at all.


  1. What are the two categories of law

  2. What law is predominant in continental countries

  3. What law prevails in England

  4. What are principal sources of Common law

  5. What are two subsidiary sources

  6. Who is the ultimate legislator in England

  7. Can courts influence upon the development of written law

  8. What is called «the doctrine» of the binding case

  9. What are cases of first impression

  10. What are customs

  11. Are Books of authority important source of law in England

Read and translate the text
The Development of Statutory and Common Law

There are some dates that are extremely significant and tend to stick in people's minds. Two of these dates in English history are 1066 and 1215.

In 1066 William the Conqueror invaded England from French Normandy and defeated the English King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. In 1215 the English King John was forced to sign a document known as the Magna Carta by the powerful lords and barons. These dates are so I important in the development of English law.

Before the arrival of William the Conqueror in 1066, most laws in England were imposed by local communities and were enforced in-many different ways. There was what was known as trial by ordeal. A person accused of a crime was given a piece of red hot metal to hold and if his hand burnt he was declared guilty! William attempted to impose the French codified legal system after 1066. This was not entirely successful and many laws were still only locally enforced. However, in 1154 Henry II created a unified system of law that was common to the whole country. This did a way with these local differences and created a more powerful court system. It took some time for this system to work but since 1189, a date that is often referred to as 'time immemorial', English law has been described as a common law rather than a civil law system. When King John came to the throne he tried to assert the absolute power of the monarch over the existing legal system. He introduced higher taxes because in 1204 he had lost his lands in France and as a result a sizeable part of his income. This angered the powerful barons and eventually King John was forced to sign a document known as the Magna Carta in 1215. This was extremely significant in English legal history as it established the principle that there should be no imprisonment without trial. This is an issue that is still debated heatedly almost 800 years later.


1. Answer the questions

  1. What are the most significant dates in the English history?

  2. What document was the English king John forced to sigh?

  3. Who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta?

  4. When did William the Conqueror invade England?

  5. What did William attempt to impose?

  6. Who created a unified system of Law that was common to the whole country?

  7. What principle did the Magna Carta establish?

Languane focus

1. Translate the word and phrases

  1. defeat –

  2. force –

  3. enforce –

  4. accuse –

  5. declare guilty –

  6. create unified system of law –

  7. legal system –

  8. court system –

  9. come to the throne –

  10. introduce higher taxes –

2. Complete the sentences

  1. Most law in England were imposed by … .

  2. A person accused of crime was given … .

  3. Since 1189 English Law has been described as … .

  4. King John tried to assert the absolute power of the monarch over … .

  5. He introduced … .

Courts in the UK

Courts are generally classified into the criminal and the civil systems. The highest court in the land is known as the Supreme Court. It deals with both civil and criminal cases. The Supreme Court replaces the House of Lords, which sat as a court. Below the Supreme Court is the Court of Appeal. There are two separate divisions: civil and criminal. Below the Court of Appeal is the High Court.

The High Court is the highest court of first instance. There are three separate divisions: the Queen's Bench, the Chancery and the Family Division. Below the High Court on the civil side is the County Court and on the criminal side, the Crown Court. The County Court deals with relatively straightforward cases such as divorces and trespass to property. The Crown Court deals with serious criminal cases and appeals from the magistrates' court.

The magistrates' court is the lowest level court and has jurisdiction over a locality. It is presided over either by lay magistrates known as Justices of the Peace, or by a legally trained district judge. There are no juries.

Offenders who are aged between 10 and 17 are dealt with by Youth Courts with specially trained magistrates. These courts are not open to the public. Well, that's a brief overview of the court system. It's summarized on the PowerPoint slide.

Supreme Court Court of appeal High Court

(civ.+crim.) (civ. div.+crim. div.) (Queens Bench, Chancery, Fam. div.)
Country Court Crown Court

(civ.) (crim.)

magistrates court
Language focus
1. Match the description of each court with its function.

  1. A magistrates court (UK)

  2. The High Court of justice (UK)

  3. The European Court of justice

  4. Court of Appeal (Civil Division) (UK)

  5. The Crown Court (UK)

  1. The Court is of The Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief justice, the Master of the Rolls, the President of the Family Division and 28 other Lords justice of Appeal and may uphold, amend or reverse the decision of a lower court a new trial.

  2. There are 900 of them, dealing mostly with cases of criminal law and common law and preserving the local peace. They are presided over by justices of the Peace (of magistrates).

  3. It consists of three divisions: the Queen`s Bench Division, the Chancery Division and the Family Division, it deals with civil cases.

  4. It deals with all the criminal cases passed to it from the Magistrates Court and has jurisdiction over all serious offences. It is presided over by High Court or circuit judges and always uses a jury.

  5. In Europe, this court overrules any other civil court in any member state.

Civil and criminal courts within the English legal system

In the English legal system there are three different types of court: civil courts, criminal courts and tribunals which act as courts.

Civil courts resolve disputes between private citizens or between private citizens and the state. In the criminal courts, cases are brought against; a person who has broken the law. These cases are usually brought by the state. It is important to know the distinction between the cases that are heard in the civil court and the cases that are heard in the criminal court.

Cases brought before the civil courts are to do with legal matters such as breach of contract, trespass to property, and disputes over land or the wrongful exercise of power by a public authority. Cases are usually cited with the names of the parties to the dispute: for example, Miller and Jackson. This is written Miller v Jackson, but said as 'and': Miller and Jackson.

In civil cases, the court can award damages to the person who has suffered as the result of wrongdoing. In certain circumstances, the court will issue an injunction to prevent the wrongdoing from occurring again.

Cases brought before the criminal courts are to do with offences against the state which, these days, usually involve breach of the statutory law. In the UK, cases in the criminal courts are cited as R v Smith; R stands for Regina or the Crown against Smith. When lawyers refer to criminal cases they often use just the name of the accused: for example, Smith. If the accused is found guilty, the court can order punishment. This can either be a custodial sentence, which means going to prison, or a non-custodial sentence such as a fine, probation or a community service order.

Court is different from a tribunal, although the distinction is not always clear. The House of Lords decided in Attorney General v BBC [1980] that a court exercises the judicial power of the state. If it only has an administrative function, it is not a court. This distinction is not merely semantic as it has a direct bearing on contempt of court proceedings. Contempt of court, by definition, applies only to courts of justice and not to other legal decision-making bodies. It has been held that an Employment Appeal Tribunal which would hear cases of wrongful dismissal by an employer is a court; yet there can be no contempt of court in a tribunal.

Torts (disputes between private citizens resolved in civil courts)

  • trespass to the person

  • assault

  • battery

  • false imprisonment

  • trespass to property

Crimes (breaches of the law heard in criminal courts)

  • offences against the person

  • assault

  • murder

  • manslaughter

  • theft


1. Answer the questions

  1. What are the three types of court in the English legal system ?

  2. What cases do Civil courts resolve ?

  3. What types of cases are brought before criminal courts ?

  4. What kind of punishment can the criminal court order ?

  5. What is the difference between a court and a tribunal ?

2. True or false

  1. Civil courts resolve disputes between private citizens.

  2. Criminal courts resolve disputes between private citizens and the state.

  3. Such cases as breach of contract, trespass to property are brought before criminal courts.

  4. In civil cases the court can award damages to the person who has suffered as the result of wrongdoing.

  5. Cases brought before the criminal courts are to do with offences against the state.

  6. Tribunals have only administrative function.

Language focus

1. Translate the phrases

  1. apply the law −

  2. make decisions –

  3. specialize in –

  4. treat fairly –

  5. hear a case –

  6. examine appeals –

  7. protect the rights –

  8. award damages –

  9. find guilty –

  10. order punishment –

2. Match the words and phrases with the definitions

  1. breach of contract a) нарушение закона

  2. divorce б) превышение властных полномочий

  3. trespass to property в) нарушение договорных обязательств

  4. dispute over land г) земельные споры

  5. wrongful exercise of power д) незаконное увольнение

  6. breach of law е) развод

  7. wrongful dismissal д) вторжение на земли, принадлежащих

по праву частной собственности
Read and translate the text

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Jury System

A jury is a group of, usually, 12 ordinary people who have been selected to listen to the facts in a trial in a law court and decide on whether the case has been proved. It's claimed that the advantage of the jury system is that it ensures a fair trial, especially in criminal cases. People who are accused of an offence are tried by their peers - the general public rather than trained lawyers - who use their common sense to reach a verdict based solely on the evidence they have heard in the case. However, in recent years many lawyers have argued that the disadvantage of the jury system is that in some cases, such as serious fraud, the facts are generally too complex for the ordinary person in the street to follow.

There is also the problem of jury selection. Sitting on a jury is both a right and a duty. Jurors are selected at random from people who are entitled to vote who are under the age of 70. The advantage of this is that, in theory, juries are composed of people who come from a very wide spectrum of society. Unfortunately, many people try to avoid their duty because they claim they are to busy at work or will lose their salary. As a result, juries, it is argued, have too many people with time, such as unemployed and retired people, to provide a good balance.

Let us go back to the role of the jury. In a trial, the jury's function is to decide on the facts of the case. The jurors are there to determine the truth. However, many cases have a highly emotive element and this can, it is argued, sway the jury away from the facts.

Should emotion have a place in a court of law? Can a group of twelve ordinary men and women provide a fair trial and reach the correct verdict any better or worse than trained lawyers? The government is keen to abolish trial by jury for some crimes but surprisingly perhaps the legal profession is not. This is because an adversarial system where lawyers need to argue the case against each other.

The jury system



ensures a fair trial esp. in criminal cases

some cases too complex for ordinary people, e.g., serious fraud

people from a wide spectrum

of society

too many unemployed/retired people

decide only on facts of case

swayed by emotion


Answer the questions

  1. What is a jury

  2. How many people does a jury consist of

  3. What does a jury decide

  4. What is the disadvantage of the jury system

  5. Why is there a problem of jury selection

  6. What is the advantage of the Jury System

  7. Why do many people try to avoid their duty

  8. Do you think a group of twelve people can provide a fair trial

Language focus

(translate the words and phrases

  1. Prove a case –

  2. The jury system –

  3. Use common sense –

  4. Ensure a fair trial –

  5. Provide a good balance –

  6. Determine the truth –

  7. Provide a fair trial –

  8. Abolish trial by jury -

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