The future of the UK's constitution - 'a new Magna Carta' ?

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A major programme of research conducted by Professor Robert Blackburn at King's College London for a parliamentary inquiry into the question of a written constitution for the UK was published yesterday in a Report of the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee entitled A new Magna Carta?

The Report was launched at a special event held at the British Library which houses a copy of the 800 year old Magna Carta, with speeches by Graham Allen MP the chair of the Committee and Professor Blackburn.  Mr Allen said:  'The first ever written constitution to be produced by Parliament for consideration by the public is a truly historic occasion. There is no doubt in my mind that but for the unique collaboration with King’s College London led by Professor Robert Blackburn, this 4 year long yet highly detailed task could not have been achieved. I offer sincere thanks to Professor Robert Blackburn, who led the research that informed ‘A new Magna Carta?’, the report of the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee.'

The Report provides the basis for a national consultation on a written constitution and the shape of our democracy today. Professor Blackburn set out different visions of what a documentary UK constitution could be and has drafted for the Committee three illustrative blueprints - a non-legal Constitutional Code, a Constitutional Consolidation Act, and an entrenched Written Constitution. He also provides the arguments for and against a written constitution, and the legal, political and administrative options for the processes by which a written constitution might be drawn up and brought into effect.

‘This is a cross-party issue', Professor Blackburn explains, 'and support or opposition for a written constitution is not a matter of being Left or Right, although politicians of different political persuasions might have differing reasons for wanting or opposing a documentary constitution. Leading politicians from across the political parties have supported the idea of a written constitution in recent times and there is a growing momentum behind the proposal - it has been in the election manifestos of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, and the earliest exponents of a written constitution came from the Conservative side.’ 

The 410-page work of Professor Blackburn published in the Report sets out the case behind a written constitution, that it 'would enable everyone to know what the rules and institutions were that governed and directed ministers, civil servants and parliamentarians in performing their public duties.' It points to the sprawling mass of common law, Acts of Parliament, and European treaty obligations, surrounded by a number of important but sometimes uncertain unwritten conventions that are impenetrable to most people. A written constitution would replace this by a single document of basic law dictating the working and operation of government in UK easily accessible for all.

Conversely the case against is made, that such a reform is 'unnecessary, undesirable and un-British.' The fact that the UK system of government has never been reduced to a single document can be seen as an indication of the success of the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy and is in contrast to most other countries whose written constitutions were the product of revolution or independence.

Professor Blackburn says: ‘My research and writing for the Committee has taken me four years to produce, but does not stop now. I will continue revising and improving the three illustrative written constitutions I have provided for the Committee, taking into account my further research particularly in comparative constitutional law and the results of the public consultation on the Report.'

Notes to editors

For more information, please contact Anna Mitchell, PR Manager at King’s College London, on 0207 848 3092 or email anna.i.mitchell@kcl.ac.uk

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