The UK has a common law legal system. It is very difficult to give a simple definition of
the legal system in the UK, but you may find it helps to think of it as the systemthat
covers how all civil and criminal laws are made, used and enforced.
A fundamental part of any legal system is its constitution. A constitution is the basic law
of the state providing the rulesby which the state is governed and setting out the rights
and responsibilities of the state and its citizens. For example, in the UK, adults aged over
18 who have the right to vote in a generalelection have a constitutional responsibility to
Constitutions are important because they essentially set out the broad principles
concerning who can make law. They also allocate the balance ofpower between the main
institutions of the state – the government, Parliament and the judiciary – and provide the
framework for the use of these institutions' powers.
A constitution may alsoindicate the basic principles by which a country should expect to
be governed, for example, that people should not be punished unless they have broken the
law; or that certain rights and freedoms, such asfreedom of speech, thought and
conscience, are guaranteed. In the UK, we have an unwritten constitution that comes
from many sources. This is unusual as every other Western democracy has a writtenconstitution. In many cases, such as for France, Germany and the United States of
America, the document containing the constitution was written after a major change, such
as a revolution or war.The sources of the UK's unwritten constitution include Acts of the UK Parliament,
judicial decisions and conventions. Conventions are not laws but are long established
traditions which are followedbecause they have just simply become recognised as the
right way to do things. One example of a convention is that judges do not undertake
activities associated with political parties.
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