2.1.1 Constitutional Institutions - Introduction

Welcome to the first lesson of the second topic in this module guide – Constitutional Institutions, Their Roles and Conventions! An important aspect of a constitutional system is how power is assigned to different institutions. A governmental system usually consists of three branches: the executive; the legislature; and the judiciary. The relationship between these branches normally involves a separation of powers to some extent. This may help to ensure that liberty is maintained by preventing the abuse of power by one of the branches, but there is academic contention over the exact separation of powers in the UK.

At the end of this section, you should be comfortable with the concept of the doctrine of the separation of powers, and how this relates to the unwritten constitution of the United Kingdom. You should be able to refer to the various institutions of the three branches of government, and have a basic understanding of their powers and relationships to one another. You should also understand more about these respective functions of the European Union.

This section begins by discussing the doctrine of the separation of powers. It then evaluates the commitment to this doctrine by the UK government. It goes on to look at the various institutions of the executive, including their relative powers, and the concept of devolution and local government. There is then a discussion of the institutions relating to the Legislature, those within Parliament. After, the Judiciary is considered, with specific reference to Judicial Review and to the impact of the Human Rights Act 1998. Finally the section discusses the various institutions of the European Union, and how these impact upon the United Kingdom and the separation of powers doctrine.

Goals for this section:

  • To understand the separation of powers doctrine.
  • To appreciate how this applies to the UK Government.

Objectives for this section:

  • To be able to define the separation of powers and the justifications for the doctrine.
  • To understand the limitations of the strict separation of power.
  • To be able to evaluate the UK commitment to the separation of powers.
  • To understand how this doctrine relates to the various institutions of the UK government.
  • To understand how this doctrine relates to the various institutions of the EU government.

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