The traditional doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty

The traditional philosophy of Parliamentary sovereignty can no longer be regarded as an changeless portion of theUnited kingdomconstitutional jurisprudence. Discuss.


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“Parliamentary sovereignty is no longer, if it of all time was absolute.”[ 1 ]

The philosophy of Parliamentary sovereignty can no longer be regarded as changeless. Several of import alterations have taken topographic point to the environment in which it operates ensuing in its importance being impaired. The United Kingdom’s rank into the European Union ( EU ) , the Human Rights Act 1998 ( HRA ) and the development of wider degeneration powers have all taken their toll on the security of the philosophy as portion of UK constitutional jurisprudence. It is contested that Parliamentary sovereignty was a philosophy developed many old ages ago and although it is still strong in theory, in world it is being eroded away doing it impossible to be labelled “immutable” .

What is parliamentary sovereignty?

“The right to do or undo any jurisprudence whatever ; and further that no individual or organic structure is recognised by the law…as holding a right to overrule or put aside the statute law of parliament.”[ 2 ]

The term “Parliamentary sovereignty” has attracted unfavorable judgment from faculty members who believe it confuses legal and political issues [ 3 ] . As Bradley and Ewing articulate the “legislative domination of parliament” is more accurate denoting the fact that there are “no legal restrictions on the legislative domination of parliament.” [ 4 ] In this paper when utilizing “Parliamentary sovereignty” it is such a definition which is being referred to. The philosophy is of a common jurisprudence nature significance that potentially Judgess may over-rule it in subsequent case-law. Indeed in a recent instance Lord Steyn has acknowledged that “it is non unthinkable that fortunes could originate where the tribunals may hold to measure up ( it ) . “ [ 5 ] It seems that these fortunes have arisen. There are clear political restraints to Parliamentary sovereignty and it appears that recent alterations to the environment in which the philosophy operates limit it. It is to these that we now turn.

The European Union menace

“The progressing gait of European integrating ( through community jurisprudence ) has already made extended inroads into the Diceyan philosophy of legislative supremacy.”[ 6 ]

The UK’s passage of the European Communities Act 1973 and subsequent rank into the EU prompts faculty members, such as Elliot, to reason that it is the chief factor gnawing the indomitability of Parliament’s legislative ability [ 7 ] . Take for illustration subdivision 2 ( 4 ) which establishes the primacy of EU jurisprudence over national statute law. Although observers such as Jowell do non see this to be a challenge to Parliamentary sovereignty because Parliament can potentially revoke the Act at any clip, the world is that this is extremely improbable to happen. [ 8 ] Furthermore when analyzing the case-law it seems that Judgess are purely using Community jurisprudence over national statute law. For case Baroness Hale has noted in a recent instance: “Parliament has…for the clip being at least, limited its ain powers by the European Communities Act 1972.” [ 9 ] Such a statement from a justice provides an penetration into the manner the judiciary position these two opposing forces.Factortame[ 10 ] illustrates this point further with Lord Bridge noticing “whatever restriction of its sovereignty Parliament accepted when it enacted the European Communities Act 1972 was wholly voluntary” . Although it is true that rank to the EU could be terminated by revoking the 1973 Act, in world this would ne’er go on due to the political branchings for any Parliament attempting this.

The Human Rights Act menace

“It is no longer right to state that freedom to pass admits of no making whatever” .[ 11 ]

The HRA contributes to the weakening of Parliament’s sovereignty by following such a powerful position within international jurisprudence that if Parliament were to go through statute law disregarding those rights it protects, the reverberations for Parliament would take finally to a recession in religion of their capableness and certainly do some signifier of revolution. Although the HRA is merely an Act that Parliament could be repealed intheory, in world the tumult that this would pull agencies this is non possible. The powers of the HRA are far-reaching, for case subdivision 3 of the Act allows Judgess to strive an reading of statute law so it can be read giving consequence to the rights protected in the HRA. Furthermore there is the ability to publish a Section 4 declaration of mutual exclusiveness which puts immense force per unit area on Parliament to alter statute law if it can non be read in concurrence with the HRA. The restriction on Parliamentary sovereignty is therefore immense – Parliament has to bear in head the HRA when legislation and if they do non so the effects are rough. As Loveland remarks the environment environing Parliament sovereignty when Dicey was composing has changed dramatically and the HRA is a cardinal illustration of such a alteration [ 12 ] .

The menace from Degeneration

The powers of degeneration have greatly been increased late in the 1998 Scotland, Government of Wales and Northern Ireland Acts. Although they do all differ in the sum of power they divulge, the rule of divulged power underlying all of them does supply a menace, albeit of a lesser impact than EU rank and the HRA to the philosophy. The biggest menace is that power ensued onto the Scots Parliament leting legislative powers. Although subdivision 28 ( 7 ) [ 13 ] steadfastly retains Westminster’s power to pass, if Westminster were to disregard the Scots Parliament’s divulged powers so the consequence would be black and travel against the whole spirit of the Act. Thus the degeneration of powers can be seen as exerting force per unit area on to the philosophy in much the same manner as the ECA and HRA.


Although Parliament sovereignty is still integral and is safeguarded in theory, the environment in which it operates is in pattern gnawing the rule. There is a important difference between what is theoretically possible and that which is practically possible. Parliamentary sovereignty is still in topographic point in theory although in world is taking progressively more blows. Furthermore, as Loveland contests this tendency to ignore the philosophy can be welcomed. [ 14 ] Without a written fundamental law in the UK there should be restraints imposed on what Parliament can and can non go through. Parliament, although democratically elected should non today be able to go through any jurisprudence they want ignoring important cardinal rights that are in other states are so good embedded into their fundamental laws.


Barnett, H ( 2004 ) Constitutional and Administrative Law ( 5th Edition ) Cavendish Publishing

Bradley, A W & A ; Ewing, K D ( 2003 ) Constitutional and Administrative Law ( 13ThursdayEdition ) Pearson Education Limited

Dicey, A V ( 1959 ) An Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution ( 10ThursdayEdition ) London Macmillan

Loveland, I ( 2006 ) Constitutional Law, Administrative Law and Human Rights

A Critical Introduction ( 4ThursdayEdition ) Oxford University Press

Parpworth, N ( 2008 ) Constitutional and Administrative Law ( 5ThursdayEdition ) Oxford University Press

Pollard, D, Parpworth, N & A ; and Hughes, D ( 2007 ) Constitutional and Administrative Law: Text with stuffs ( 4ThursdayEdition ) Oxford University Press


M. Elliot, ‘Parliamentary sovereignty under pressure’ ( 2004 ) 2 ( 3 )International Journal of Constitutional Law,545 -627

J. Jowell, ‘Parliamentary sovereignty under the new constitutional hypothesis’ ( 2006 )Public Law, 562 -580


JacksonVAttorney-General[ 2005 ] UKHL 56 ; 1 A.C. 262, at [ 159 ]

RoentgenVSecretary of State for Transport ex parte Factortame Ltd( No.2 ) [ 1991 ] 1 AC 603


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