Against a Written Constitution

Public Law, Vol. 11, 2008

10 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2013

See all articles by Nicholas W. Barber

Nicholas W. Barber

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law

Date Written: April 23, 2013


This paper considers calls for the United Kingdom to produce a written constitution. It seeks to show that the adoption of such a document would be a hazardous affair. First, because it risks forcing through unpopular or concealed changes to the constitution. Claims that a written constitution could simply codify the pre-existing constitutional order are misleading: a new document would, unavoidably, bring forward constitutional change. Second, that it risks shifting political power from democratic institutions towards the judiciary. Whilst this may be desirable in some areas, introducing a written constitution risks involving the judges in a wide range of areas that have, until now, been left within the political realm. And, finally, that it risks unnecessarily provoking destabilising constitutional crisis by forcing the United Kingdom's political community to answer questions that they have deliberately avoided answering. Having set out the objections to a written constitution, the weight of the argument then shifts to its advocates: given that a written constitution is not necessary, they must show that its benefits outweigh its dangers.

Suggested Citation

Barber, Nicholas W., Against a Written Constitution (April 23, 2013). Public Law, Vol. 11, 2008, Available at SSRN:

Nicholas W. Barber (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law ( email )

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