What is a constitution?

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Tangled Metal
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What is a constitution?

Postby Tangled Metal » 11 Jul 2019, 11:41pm

What constitutes a constitution?

Serious query! Just heard a polemic for the UK needing a written constitution. The idea is without a written constitution we're at risk of going down the dictatorship route like cases in history. That got me wondering if we just have a constitution written in the legislation and through case law.

Personally I don't think a single, written constitution will stop anything like demagogues, dictators or issues with populism. It's vigilance and application of rule of law. The independence of the judiciary. That's still no guarantee, there's never a guarantee possible.

So any views on what counts as a constitution? Any explanations for me?

merseymouth
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Re: What is a constitution?

Postby merseymouth » 12 Jul 2019, 7:38am

Hello all, We keep being told by the controllers that we in the UK have an "Unwritten Constitution"???
So we have experts on hypothetical meanings about non existent rights, with resolute assurances that all citizens are better off with such a system!
But for me I support the old comment - that "An unwritten contract isn't worth the paper it's not written on" :oops: . TTFN MM

Oldjohnw
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Re: What is a constitution?

Postby Oldjohnw » 12 Jul 2019, 8:36am

merseymouth wrote:Hello all, We keep being told by the controllers that we in the UK have an "Unwritten Constitution"???
So we have experts on hypothetical meanings about non existent rights, with resolute assurances that all citizens are better off with such a system!
But for me I support the old comment - that "An unwritten contract isn't worth the paper it's not written on" :oops: . TTFN MM


Which is, of course, why we need an independent judiciary and comprehensive human rights legislation, preferably with a supra-national appeal body such as the ECHR, so that our rights are not subject to the whims of a less than benign state.
John

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Tangled Metal
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Re: What is a constitution?

Postby Tangled Metal » 12 Jul 2019, 8:55am

So the benefits of a constitution comes from laws and judiciary and other bodies set up through laws, treaties and international law? So what point is a written constitution? Is it even needed? Does it really provide protection that not having one doesn't?

Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't the supreme Court the ultimate arbiter of us written constitution? But isn't that appointment based and consists of partisan judges? Didn't that recently lose it's impartiality through the failure of Obama to get his side's nominee appointed in time? Don't the religious right feel that they've got the best chances for getting wade vs roe overturned because of this new bias in they're supreme court?

I'm really confused about what a formal, written document known as a constitution offers that laws and independent judiciary doesn't.

BTW this thread I started because of a bloke on a late night discussion show with that ex newspaper editor argued that we needed a written constitution now more than ever. I didn't follow his logic. It made sense only if you held the view a piece of paper is a magic talisman capable of great magic. He gave cause to invoke Godwins law right from the beginning too. So lost his argument IMHO from the beginning.

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Cugel
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Re: What is a constitution?

Postby Cugel » 12 Jul 2019, 9:08am

Oldjohnw wrote:
merseymouth wrote:Hello all, We keep being told by the controllers that we in the UK have an "Unwritten Constitution"???
So we have experts on hypothetical meanings about non existent rights, with resolute assurances that all citizens are better off with such a system!
But for me I support the old comment - that "An unwritten contract isn't worth the paper it's not written on" :oops: . TTFN MM


Which is, of course, why we need an independent judiciary and comprehensive human rights legislation, preferably with a supra-national appeal body such as the ECHR, so that our rights are not subject to the whims of a less than benign state.


Indeed.

Yankers and various others who were impressed by The French Revolution, or some other pretense that The Best Political Arrangement had at last been found, love to ossify their particular "vision" or "dream" of correct human arrangements in a written document of rules and regs. They believe these rules and regs should and could apply forever, no matter what the circumstances. "The End of History" has arrived and been codified.

Some allow a little bit of mechanism for amending The Constitution, although this is generally regarded as a means only to refine the already correct version with a small tweak or two, not a means to radically change anything.

As a result, many nations have a set of laws that are mired in some previous century. Often they are interpreted in a very arcane manner in order to deal with the desires of some now dominant class; or to deal with a reality bite so painful that The Constitution has had a fright. They are often a drag-anchor on realistic change to meet new circumstances. They are often a draconian set of limits already promoting the interests of one class against the interests of all the others.

Our unwritten constitution is hardly without faults but at least it can evolve, like the rest of the world and everything in it. The trick in having a successful evolution of the unwritten constitution seems to be a genuine distribution of powers amongst all citizens and their representatives.

Sadly, out own written constitution has always been rather biased in favour of some form of aristocracy (currently The City and Business, as well as large property owners). However, if we could somehow arrange a genuinely representative Parliament (i.e. representing everyone's interests, with laws, regulations and institutions to negotiate between them) this can (and has) easily evolve to meet new circumstances.

Having a written constitution won't prevent a dictatorship or some other form of government over-writing it. Consider the ongoing events in Yankerland.

Cugel

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bovlomov
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Re: What is a constitution?

Postby bovlomov » 12 Jul 2019, 9:15am

Tangled Metal wrote: He gave cause to invoke Godwins law right from the beginning too. So lost his argument IMHO from the beginning.

Godwin's Law doesn't have any bearing on whether the reference to the Nazis is justified or not. I mean, if Fascists are roaming the streets, we can't stay silent for fear of Godwin's Law being invoked.

Personally - over the years I have thought most accusations of fascism to be the kneejerk, random, hysterical and/or unjustified. But recently, there are very many reasonable comparisons to be drawn between the events of the 1920s/30s and today.

What was the rest of his argument? Perhaps he had a point.

iandriver
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Re: What is a constitution?

Postby iandriver » 12 Jul 2019, 9:21am

It's your ability to withstand spicy food, alcohol or shorts in a Scottish winter.
Supporter of the A10 corridor cycling campaign serving Royston to Cambridge http://a10corridorcycle.com. Never knew gardening secateurs were an essential part of the on bike tool kit until I took up campaigning.....

andrec
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Re: What is a constitution?

Postby andrec » 12 Jul 2019, 10:37am

A constitution is simply a list of rules which a group of people agree to adhere to.They can be scrapped or amended as the people see fit just like other rules.

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Audax67
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Re: What is a constitution?

Postby Audax67 » 12 Jul 2019, 11:11am

Usually, too, a constitution can only be modified by a two-thirds majority, which means that a party with a large parliamentary majority can write its own rules. If they lose that majority there's a good chance that their successors will not have enough clout to repeal them.
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bovlomov
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Re: What is a constitution?

Postby bovlomov » 12 Jul 2019, 11:15am

andrec wrote:A constitution is simply a list of rules which a group of people agree to adhere to.They can be scrapped or amended as the people see fit just like other rules.

A constitution in only of any use if it is difficult to change. Any laws that can be shifted at the whim of a government or by a short-term popular majority, I think, can't be described as part of a constitution. Or, at least, it would be a feeble and pointless constitution that allowed it.

A constitution should be like a sea anchor. It doesn't stop the general direction of travel, but it resists surges.

merseymouth
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Re: What is a constitution?

Postby merseymouth » 12 Jul 2019, 11:50am

Hi there, Well said Bovimov! A bedrock on which all foundations can be laid. :D . IGICB MM

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Re: What is a constitution?

Postby PH » 12 Jul 2019, 12:04pm

The Irish constitution can only be amended by referendum and we all know what a great way that is to decide major issues.

Vorpal
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Re: What is a constitution?

Postby Vorpal » 12 Jul 2019, 12:10pm

I have mixed feeling about this.

To my mind, the important part is not the constitution, but the rights enshrined in law. Growing up as I did in the USA, I learned that the constitution was a crucial document and the basis for all law in the USA.

Now I know that while the USA is not as dependent upon legal precedent as the UK, it is still key in interpretting the constitution, and the legal system is, in some ways, not so different from the British.

One aspect of a written constitution is that it is difficult to change. This has obvious advantages when it comes to protecting rights, but what may less obvious is that is can be difficult to protect additional rights, when society changes. An equal rights amendment, granting equal rights to women has languished in the US since the 1970s. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equal_Rights_Amendment

I don't think that the biggest need for political reform in the UK lies in constitutional law. I think it lies in preventing moneyed interest in politics. There should be limitiations on the interest that MPs and their immediate family have in managing personal wealth, sitting on boards, etc. And there should be independent review of many more funding decisions than currently. Independent review needs to report on potential conflicts of interest, whether the funding is aligned with stated targets, and impact on vulnerable populations, at a minimum.

As for the partisan nature of the Supreme Court, it has always been somewhat that way. Part of the reason that there are 9 justices is to reduce the impact that any one president / congress could have on the Supreme Court. Most presidents get to appoint one or two justices. So, there are currently 4 appointed by Democratic presidents, and 5 appointed by Republicans.
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Mike Sales
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Re: What is a constitution?

Postby Mike Sales » 12 Jul 2019, 12:15pm

Vorpal wrote:I don't think that the biggest need for political reform in the UK lies in constitutional law. I think it lies in preventing moneyed interest in politics.


And in USA politics.

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Re: What is a constitution?

Postby Vorpal » 12 Jul 2019, 12:18pm

Mike Sales wrote:
Vorpal wrote:I don't think that the biggest need for political reform in the UK lies in constitutional law. I think it lies in preventing moneyed interest in politics.


And in USA politics.

Yes, but that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish. Politics in the USA is more corrupt than in the UK, mostly due to the rules around lobbying and political donations.
“In some ways, it is easier to be a dissident, for then one is without responsibility.”
― Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom