UK System of Governance


The UK has a parliamentary system of governance, with the Westminster Parliament being the supreme law-making body. The doctrine of supremacy (or sovereignty) of Parliament means that the courts accept that legislation enacted by Parliament takes precedence over the common law (essentially, judge-made law as developed through cases).


Branches of Government and Separation of Power

There is no formal separation of powers in the UK constitution, but there are three 'de facto' bodies that make up branches of the state, which together provide for the separation of power.


Branches of UK State Members Roles and Responsibilities
The ‘Legislative’ branch

Head of State

The House of Commons

The House of Lords

British Parliament is the legislative branch of government, comprising two parts:

  • House of Commons is an elected representative body – its members propose and consider new laws, and can scrutinise government, ie the Executive, policies by questioning ministers about current issues either in the Commons Chamber or in Committees.
    • Certain persons are disqualified from membership by profession or occupation (for example, full-time judges) or by status (for instance, persons under the age of 21).
    • The Speaker is the Chairman of the House of Commons and carries out his or her duties impartially such as by ruling on procedural points. By convention, the Prime Minister is a member of the House of Commons.
  • House of Lords is an unelected, non-representative body and is the second chamber of the UK Parliament. It is independent from, and complements the work of, the elected House of Commons. The Lords shares the task of making and shaping laws (through proposing new legislation and reviewing/proposing amendments to legislation being put forward in the Commons) and checking/challenging the work of the government.
    • Most members of the House of Lords are life peers appointed under the Life Peerages Act 1958. Such peers are appointed by the monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister, who receives advice on who to put forward from a non-political Appointments Commission.

Which limit the power of each other and are there to provide for the best expertise of any legislation going through. Any Bill passed by the Parliament gains legitimate power only when the Queen approves it, however, nowadays it's more of a formal ceremony rather than a proper check. 

The ‘Executive’ branch

Head of State

The Prime Minister, other Government Ministers

The Civil Service

Members of the police and armed forces.

Responsible for implementing the bills/legislation produced by the Parliament. Their actions are mainly limited by the judiciary and publicity.
The ‘Judicial’ branch

Head of State

Legally-qualified Judges and Magistrates

Non-legally-qualified members of the public

Third branch of power in the UK and it is made up of the court system with the Supreme Court on top. Its members have a great power because they are the ones who decide what the law actually implies in any given case.

The power of judges in the UK is higher than many countries, because UK does not have a written constitution and therefore there is no supreme set of laws collected in one place to be available for the citizens. Due to this enormous power judiciary has a large amount of checks and balances:

  • Firstly, the court system itself allows any case to be considered by a more supreme court every time if the court decision was considered unfair.
  • Secondly, judges are appointed and approved by the experts outside judiciary, who are theoretically unlikely to be prejudiced during the appointment process.

Judiciary is often considered the most efficient check on the Parliament, because any MP can be called to the court to answer for his actions, thus preventing the state or the 'executive' from exercising its powers in an unlawful manner. 

The Head of State is the monarch (currently Queen Elizabeth II) who is unelected and who occupies that position by virtue of birth. In practice, the role of the monarch is largely ceremonial.

Most of the monarch's legal powers are exercised by the Government on her behalf. The monarch is part of the legislative process because they must give Royal Assent before a bill that has passed through Parliament becomes an Act of Parliament.

Some powers that the Government exercises are derived from the Royal Prerogative and are exercised in the name of the monarch, although the monarch remains legally responsible for their exercise. The Royal Prerogative is what remains of the absolute powers that were formerly exercised by the monarch and which have not been removed by Parliament. These powers include matters of national security, the defence of the realm and the deployment of the armed forces.