A new Magna Carta? - Political and Constitutional Reform Contents


Mapping the Path towards Codifying - or Not Codifying - the UK Constitution


Professor of Constitutional Law

Centre for Political and Constitutional Studies

King's College London



This programme of research has been prepared at the formal request[6] of the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee chaired by Graham Allen MP to assist its inquiry, and the policy debate generally, on the proposal to codify - or not - the UK constitution. The work been prepared in an impartial way, adopting a pragmatic approach to the issues involved, and does not seek to advocate either codification or non-codification. Its purpose is to inform the inquiry of the issues involved and, in the event that a government in the future might wish to implement such a proposal, it seeks to provide a starting point and set of papers to help facilitate the complex and sensitive issues of substance and process that would be involved.

Structure of the Research

The content starts (Part I) by identifying, and giving a succinct account of, the arguments for and against a written constitution, prepared in rhetorical manner.

  It then (Part II) sets out a series of three illustrative blueprints, prepared in the belief that a consideration of detailed alternative models on how a codified constitution might be designed and drafted will better inform and advance the debate on the desirability or not of writing down the constitution into one documentary source. These are -

  (1)   Constitutional Code - a document sanctioned by Parliament but without statutory authority, setting out the essential existing elements and principles of the constitution and workings of government.

  (2)   Constitutional Consolidation Act - a consolidation of existing laws of a constitutional nature in statute, the common law and parliamentary practice, together with a codification of essential constitutional conventions.

  (3) Written Constitution - a document of basic law by which the United Kingdom is governed, including the relationship between the state and its citizens, an amendment procedure, and elements of reform.

  Each of these blueprints is self-contained in the sense that each could serve as a particular model for codifying the constitution. Taken together, however, they could be regarded as three stages or building blocks to go through in the process of working towards a written constitution of the UK.

  The Written Constitution contains a limited number of substantive reforms to our system of governance, particularly in those areas where a constitutional problem has arisen in recent years. These are not individual reforms advocated by this paper as such, merely offered as potential solutions and an illustration of an alternative possibility. Producing a coherent constitutional document of this nature makes it easier to see how different parts of the political and constitutional structure relate to one another and, it is hoped, to evaluate ideas and suggestions for future progression of its component parts.

  In the last section (Part III), the issues and options to be addressed in the preparation, design and implementation of a codified constitution is considered, including the most appropriate body to draft the constitution, the need for cross-party co-operation, and public engagement procedures.


Ancillary Papers

Related to this work, published separately on-line, are three ancillary papers: A Literature Review, being an explanation and discussion of the debate so far on codifying the UK constitution or adopting a written constitution for the UK; The Existing Constitution, being a study of the special characteristics of the UK constitution requiring special attention in the process of adopting a codified or written constitution; and a series of twenty-three Case Studies on Constitution Building, to accompany Part III of the programme of research on The Preparation, Design and Implementation of a Codified UK Constitution, focussing in greater depth on specific matters of process and comparative constitution-building exercises.



Robert Blackburn is Professor of Constitutional Law at King's College London. He is the author of authoritative works of legal theory and practice on the constitution, including Constitutional and Administrative Law (Volume 20), The Crown and Crown Proceedings (Volume 29) and Parliament (Volume 78) in Halsbury's Laws of England, and has written or edited twelve books on political and constitutional affairs, including The Electoral System in Britain, King and Country, Parliament: Functions, Practice and Procedure and Constitutional Reform. He lectures at King's on a number of specialist courses designed by him on constitutional affairs, among them Advanced Constitutional Law (LLB), The Theory and Practice of Parliament (LLM), and The Constitutional History of Britain (MA), and since 2010 has been founding Director of the Centre for Political and Constitutional Studies.


Special thanks are due to Dr Andrew Blick, Research Fellow to the programme, now Lecturer in Politics and Contemporary History at King's, who wrote the ancillary papers on A Literature Review and The Existing Constitution, and provided assistance throughout; to Philip Povey and Dr Elin Weston who provided assistance in the preparation of the draft Constitutional Consolidation Act; and for their encouragement and support, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Nuffield Foundation.

  Members of an advisory group to the Centre met in a series of four private seminars to consider draft material for this work, to whom I am indebted for their comments and advice. They included Professor Vernon Bogdanor, Professor Anthony Bradley, Professor Ian Cram, Dr Graham Gee, Katie Ghose, Dr Elizabeth Gibson-Morgan, Richard Gordon QC, Stephen Hockman QC, Professor Sir Francis Jacobs QC, Professor George Jones, Professor Sir Jeffrey Jowell QC, Professor Satvinder Juss, Guy Lodge, Lord Kenneth Morgan, Professor Roger Mortimore, Dr Caroline Morris, Dr Michèle Olivier, Richard Percival, Professor Lord Raymond Plant, Craig Prescott, Alexandra Runswick, Roger Smith, Lord Wilf Stevenson, Dr Elin Weston, Professor Sir Robert Worcester, and as observers David Willis and Nick Hodgson.

  I have aimed to be inclusive of earlier work on this subject, where appropriate. I am grateful to Professors Vernon Bogdanor and Stefan Vogenauer for permission to reproduce in the draft Constitutional Code material drawn from the draft constitution produced during their Oxford course on Enacting the British Constitution in 2006; and to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) for permission to reproduce in the draft Written Constitution extensive parts of The Constitution of the United Kingdom, produced by their commission on the constitution in 1991, of which I was a member.

Robert Blackburn

King's College London

June 2014

6  16September2010. Back

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