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The UK Constitution and the Role of Referenda

There is quite a bit of confusion about the UK constitution.  The last revolution was in 1688.  It was a popular revolution and the new constitutional document (the Bill of Rights) was created as a document outside parliament.

Hence there was not really any legal continuity between the previous parliaments and that parliament.  It was key because it created a constitutional monarchy.

Other constitutional statutes such as Magna Carta 1297 and other statutes were adopted, but the Bill of Rights underpins all of that.  That all comprised the constitutional settlement of 1688.

That is why it is my view that referenda are not alien to the UK constitution and that there is a role for referenda particularly in dealing with constitutional issues. We do not have a parliamentary system which has direct continuity from 1251 not least because of the revolution of 1688, but also previously.

Where, therefore, there is a poplar demand for a referendum on a constitutional matter then logically parliament should have the option of providing such a process essentially at the request of the people as a whole.

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R v SUSSEX JUSTICES ex p McCARTHY [1924] 1 KB 256

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KING’S BENCH DIVISION

R v SUSSEX JUSTICES ex p McCARTHY [1924] 1 KB 256

November 9 1923

Editor’s comments in bold.

Here, the magistrates’ clerk retired with the bench when they were considering a charge of dangerous driving. The clerk belonged to a firm of solicitors acting in civil proceedings for the other party to the accident. It was entirely irrelevant that there had been no evidence of actual influence brought to bear on the magistrates, and the conviction was duly quashed.

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