UK Legal and Judicial System


The United Kingdom (the UK) has three separate legal systems: one each for England & Wales, Scotland; and Northern Ireland.

This reflects the systems’ historical origins. The paragraphs below deal primarily with the legal system of England & Wales but make reference to other parts of the UK, where relevant.

The UK has an unwritten constitution in that there is no single written document that sets out the rights of individual citizens and how the Government should act. The UK constitution is comprised of a variety of sources, some of which are written (such as statutes) and others (such as constitutional conventions which are unwritten (see Main Sources of Law)).

The constitution is unitary in that the Parliament in Westminster is the supreme law-making authority. Since 1999, devolution has provided for the transfer of powers from the Westminster Parliament to assemblies in Cardiff (Wales), Belfast (Northern Ireland), and the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. However, other law-making bodies, such as the devolved assemblies or local authorities, derive their law-making authority from powers that they have been granted by Parliament in Westminster.


Constitutional Conventions

Constitutional conventions are an important non-legal and unwritten source of the constitution and they may be defined as:

 "…rules of constitutional behaviour which are considered to be binding upon those who operate the constitution, but which are not enforced by the law courts…nor by the presiding officers in the House of Commons" (Marshall and Moodie, Some Problems of the Constitution).

An example of a constitutional convention is that the Monarch always gives Royal Assent to a bill, if advised to do so by the Prime Minister.

As constitutional conventions are 'non-legal' they do not require a procedure for their creation. If they become obsolete, they can be dispensed with without any formal step being taken.