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The Constitution of the United Kingdom: A Contextual Analysis by Peter Leyland

15 December 2009

I’ve just returned from the thoroughly enjoyable Fiction and British Politics conference, and hope to post a little more about it once I manage to marshall my thoughts into a suitable post. For now, though, here is another review originally written for Political Studies Review.

The Constitution of the United Kingdom: A Contextual Analysis by Peter Leyland

The Constitution of the United Kingdom is the first book in Hart Publishing’s new ‘Constitutional Systems of the World’ series, and the editors have presented an interesting challenge for the series from the outset. Unlike many other constitutional systems, such as that of the United States, the constitution of the United Kingdom is uncodified, far less rigidly defined than other existing constitutions. Commentators have occasionally spoken of the UK’s ‘back-of-an-envelope’ constitution which depends as much (or even more so) on convention and precedent as it does on formal documents. To include both the written and unwritten aspects of the constitution of the United Kingdom, the book first looks into the historical context of the system, examining the various sources of constitutional authority and the constitution’s underlying principles as they have developed over the course of the country’s history. From the historical background, the analysis moves on to explore institutional structures and divisions of power — including power divisions within the government; among national, regional, and local government; and (in the past half-century) between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

Leyland’s work covers the intricate structural framework of the British constitution, setting out sections on the changing role of the Crown, the relationship between Parliament and the executive, the judiciary, and devolved and local government. There are short summaries of notable legal cases and of current constitutional debates, such as the place of the House of Lords as a second chamber, the case for abolishing the monarchy, the recent reformation of the office of the Lord Chancellor, and the ‘West Lothian question’ on devolved government for England. At the end of each section is a guide to further reading, featuring useful texts and appropriate Web sites for those interested in exploring the subject in greater depth.

On the whole, the book provides a compact yet comprehensive analysis of the complexities of the British constitution, and presents the analysis in a straightforward, well-written manner. As the first book in the series, The Constitution of the United Kingdom has set a fine example for the other books to follow, and one can only hope that forthcoming titles will be equally valuable for those who have an interest in constitutional systems of the world.


First published in Political Studies Review Vol. 6 No. 3 (September 2008): 384.
The definitive version is available at www.blackwellsynergy.com.

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