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Constitutions of the United Kingdom and the United States: A Comparative Study

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Lesson: Constitutions of the United Kingdom and the United States: A Comparative Study


In this lesson, we’ll explore the constitutions of the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (USA), focusing on their evolution, characteristics, and key differences. These two democracies have distinct constitutional frameworks that reflect their unique histories and political philosophies.


  1. Understand the concept of a constitution in a democratic society.
  2. Learn about the UK’s unwritten constitution and its features.
  3. Explore the USA’s written constitution and its key aspects.
  4. Compare and contrast the constitutional arrangements of the UK and the USA.
  1. Introduction to Constitutions
  • Definition: A constitution is the fundamental framework that defines the powers and rights within a society.
  • Role in Democracy: Constitutions serve as a guide for government operations and protect citizens’ rights.
  1. The United Kingdom’s Unwritten Constitution
  • Nature: The UK’s constitution is unwritten, comprising statutes, legal conventions, and historical documents.
  • Historical Documents: Key documents include the Magna Carta (1215), Petition of Right (1628), and Bill of Rights (1689).

Key Features:

  1. Parliamentary Sovereignty: The UK Parliament has the ultimate legal authority.
  2. No Judicial Review: Courts cannot invalidate laws based on constitutionality, but the Human Rights Act (1998) allows for human rights assessments.
  3. Constitutional Flexibility: The unwritten nature allows for adaptability and evolution.
  1. The United States Written Constitution
  • Background: Adopted in 1787 post-American Revolution to establish a government protecting individual freedoms and balance of power.

Key Features:

  1. Federal System: Power is divided between the federal government and states.
  2. Separation of Powers: Divides power among legislative, executive, and judicial branches.
  3. Bill of Rights: The first ten amendments protect individual liberties from government infringement.
  1. Comparative Analysis
  • UK vs. USA:
    • UK: Emphasizes parliamentary sovereignty and constitutional flexibility.
    • USA: Focuses on federalism, separation of powers, and protection of individual rights.


  • The UK and USA provide contrasting models of democratic governance through their constitutional arrangements. Understanding these differences enhances our comprehension of the diversity in democratic systems.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does the unwritten nature of the UK’s constitution impact its legal system?
  2. Why is the separation of powers important in the USA’s constitution?
  3. How do these constitutional differences reflect the historical and cultural backgrounds of the UK and USA?


  • Group Debate: Divide into two groups, one representing the UK and the other the USA. Debate on the advantages and disadvantages of having a written vs. unwritten constitution.
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  1. Impact of the UK’s Unwritten Constitution on Its Legal System:
    • Flexibility: The unwritten constitution allows for more adaptability and evolution in response to changing social, political, and legal needs.
    • Role of Precedent and Tradition: The legal system relies heavily on established precedents and historical documents, making tradition and historical practices significant.
    • Parliamentary Sovereignty: It affirms Parliament as the supreme legal authority, allowing it to enact, amend, or repeal any law without legal constraints.
  2. Importance of Separation of Powers in the USA’s Constitution:
    • Prevents Tyranny: By dividing power among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, it ensures no single branch becomes too powerful, thus preventing tyranny.
    • Checks and Balances: Each branch has specific powers and can check the powers of the other branches, maintaining a balance and preventing abuse of power.
    • Efficiency and Specialization: Separation allows each branch to specialize in its function (legislating, executing, adjudicating), leading to more effective governance.
  3. Reflection of Historical and Cultural Backgrounds in the Constitutional Differences:
    • UK’s Historical Evolution: The UK’s unwritten constitution evolved over centuries, reflecting its long history of monarchy and gradual development of democratic principles. It signifies the UK’s preference for continuity and traditional practices.
    • USA’s Revolutionary Origins: The USA’s written constitution emerged from a revolution, symbolizing a break from monarchical rule and embodying Enlightenment ideals. It reflects the American values of individual rights, clear rules, and a distrust of concentrated power.

Activity: Group Debate on Written vs. Unwritten Constitutions

  • Pro Written Constitution (USA’s Perspective):
    • Clarity and Certainty: A written constitution provides clear guidelines and is less susceptible to arbitrary changes.
    • Protection of Rights: It explicitly outlines and protects individual rights and freedoms.
    • Checks and Balances: Clearly defines government structure, promoting accountability.
  • Pro Unwritten Constitution (UK’s Perspective):
    • Flexibility and Evolution: Can adapt more readily to societal changes without needing formal amendments.
    • Historical Continuity: Reflects the country’s historical evolution and respects established traditions.
    • Effective Governance: Parliamentary sovereignty allows for efficient decision-making and law-making.