Parliamentary Sovereignty

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

In legal terms, Parliamentary Sovereignty (referred to by some writers as Parliamentary Supremacy) means that the parliament of the United Kingdom is the supreme legal authority. An Act of parliament has overwhelming legal force and cannot be challenged by the courts or any other body.

Although other jurisdictions have sovereign parliaments, they are often restricted in what they can and cannot pass laws on because they are bound by a higher authority – usually a written constitution. If a parliament in a state with a written constitution tries to pass a law that conflicts with the constitution, a court will usually declare the law to be void and having no effect.

Because the United Kingdom has no written constitution, however, in the absence of a written constitution ultimate authority rests in parliament.

Originally, sovereignty rested in the Crown, which essentially led to personal rule by the sitting monarch. Over time however, the personal power of the monarch was reduced as parliament and the courts took a greater role in the running of the state. This can be illustrated in the 1689 Bill of Rights, which followed the restoration of the monarchy after the English Civil War and the short period where the England was a republic. In the Bill of Rights, parliament is set out as the supreme law making authority in the country, and although the monarch still possessed authority, it would be restricted to legal areas that parliament had defined for it.

Dicey and Parliamentary Sovereignty[edit | edit source]

Dicey's three limbs of parliamentary sovereignty are:

  • Parliament is the supreme law maker on any subject
  • Parliament cannot be bound by its predecessors or successors
  • Nobody can invalidate an act of parliament