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What is this poison? Of course there is a British Constitution

Matthew Parris recently wrote, "We are not hugely interested in constitutions. That’s why we don’t have one."

What is this poison that drips incessantly into the public veins?

John Adams, a U.S. President and drafter of the American Constitution, called the English Constitution "the most stupendous fabric of human invention" in all history.


THE BRITISH CONSTITUTION IS PLAINLY VISIBLE IN THE COMMON LAW established by Alfred the Great and developed by British people for the next thousand years. The Common Law incorporates the Charter of Liberties (1100), which makes the Sovereign subject to the Common Law. It incorporates the Council of Westminster (1102), which ended slavery in England. It specifically states that any slave who sets foot in England becomes instantly free (Cartwright, 1569). It defends property rights and the right to be secure in one own’s home (‘his home is his castle’). It plainly states that judges are to be guided by stare decisis, "standing by things decided" – the rulings of previous cases.

THE BRITISH CONSTITUTION IS PLAINLY VISIBLE IN THE ACT OF SETTLEMENT, 1701, which states that the Common Law is the Birthright of the people and may never be taken away.

THE BRITISH CONSTITUTION IS PLAINLY VISIBLE IN MAGNA CARTA, which established that justice would not be sold, refused or delayed, that habeas corpus is our right, that if we are accused of a crime we have the right to a jury trial, and that we will be protected from fines so large that they consume our livelihood.

The right to a jury trial is essential because it places justice in the hands of citizens, not of the state. Crucially, a jury always has the right to give a not guilty verdict even if it runs counter to the interpretation or logic of statute (Parliamentary) law. Thus the people have the power to decide that a law is unjust and overturn it.

THE BRITISH CONSTITUTION IS PLAINLY VISIBLE IN THE CORONATION OATH, which is the covenant between the British sovereign and the people of Britain. If the people freely and willingly affirm their Sovereign, the Sovereign in turn gives them a solemn promise - his or her Coronation Oath. First pledged by Edgar in 973, it binds King or Queen to deliver justice, equity, and mercy. Elizabeth II promised to uphold the respective laws and customs of the people of the United Kingdom.

THE BRITISH CONSTITUTION IS PLAINLY VISIBLE IN THE PEOPLE'S DECLARATION OF RIGHT (1688) AND THE DECLARATION AND BILL OF RIGHTS (1689), when the Oath became an undoubted and express contract for the governing of Britain. Significantly this contract takes place not between Parliament and the Crown but between the people and the Crown. The Declaration of Rights specifically states that no foreign power can rule Britain.

This is why John Adams believed that the British people had brought "the great idea" of three separate branches of government described by Cicero to perfection. They had 1) an executive in the Crown, 2) a legislature in Parliament, and 3) an independent judiciary.

However, Adams warned that if the executive power is seized by "an aristocratical or democratical assembly, it will corrupt the legislature as necessarily as rust corrupts iron. . .and when the legislature is corrupted, the people are undone."

This is exactly what has happened. Over the course of the 20th century, executive power has been taken by Parliament.

"It is the Sovereign's duty to ensure redress and remedy and to protect the people. Should a breach of the Constitution arise through mishap or mischief it must be recognised as misgovernance and declared unconstitutional by the Sovereign." Yet today The Queen appears unable or unwilling to use her power of Royal Refusal and Royal Assent.

It may seem odd for an American, with an elected president, to see any positive qualities in an executive whose powers are inherited. But isn't it a relief to have an executive who is not partisan, is not pushing for his party, who has a sense of history?

If the people agree to such an executive, and limit its powers, what is undemocratic about it? It may be eccentric or timeless or rich in ceremony, but it is not undemocratic, particularly when you consider that sovereigns who did not pass muster were sent packing, among them William II, John, Richard II, Richard III, Charles I, James II, and (by Brits in America) George III.

I have not mentioned the British right to bear arms (Bill of Rights 1689) or how the Common Law protects freedom of association, freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, and the right to silence, all won by extraordinary British men and women who were willing to die so that we might be free.

Yes, the written British Constitution is a bit long. But taking the essential parts I doubt you would find it much longer than the New Testament. It seems to me that if American John Adams could read and admire the British Constitution, the British might give it a try.

The British Constitution is plain and visible. It has been betrayed by the small men and women of Parliament and by those people who have yet to read it, stand up and defend it.

The Freedom Network and Your Own Choice have more.