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parliamentary sovereignty


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The doctrine that ‘Parliament can do anything except bind its successor’, which is the official ideology of the British constitution. Acts are not subject to judicial review, nor is constitutional or other legislation ‘entrenched’ (made more difficult to amend than ordinary legislation) because to do so would be to bind the sovereignty of future parliaments. One curious but logical consequence is that guarantees enshrined in Acts of Parliament are worthless. The Ireland Act 1949, s.1(2), states that ‘It is hereby declared that Northern Ireland remains part of…the United Kingdom and…in no event will…any part thereof cease to be part of…the United Kingdom without the consent of the Parliament of Northern Ireland’. But as there is no entrenchment, this could simply be repealed should a future UK government wish to cede Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland. Defenders of parliamentary sovereignty argue that it is essential to be clear where sovereignty lies, and that it should lie with elected politicians, not unelected judges or executive officers. Critics argue variously:1 that parliamentary sovereignty has become a cover for executive despotism, because parliament neither can nor wishes to scrutinize executive actions purportedly done in its name;2 that parliamentary sovereignty was ceded with the accession of the UK to the European Union (see also statute law); and3 that rights ought to be entrenched, and/or that such constitutional matters as the maximum allowable length of a parliament should be kept out of the (allegedly sticky) hands of politicians.Parliamentary sovereignty has been in rapid decline in the UK since 1990, when the courts first invalidated an act (the Merchant Shipping Act 1988) on the grounds of its incompatibility with an earlier statute, namely the European Communities Act 1972.

1 that parliamentary sovereignty has become a cover for executive despotism, because parliament neither can nor wishes to scrutinize executive actions purportedly done in its name;

2 that parliamentary sovereignty was ceded with the accession of the UK to the European Union (see also statute law); and

3 that rights ought to be entrenched, and/or that such constitutional matters as the maximum allowable length of a parliament should be kept out of the (allegedly sticky) hands of politicians.

Subjects: Law — Politics.


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