Constitutional Law and Ignorance

January 25, 2017


Writing the day after the Supreme Court delivered their judgement,one thing is for sure and that is that the case of R (on the application of Miller and another) (Respondents) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Appellant) will role off the tongue of future law students as easily as Donogue v Stevenson or R v Dudley & Stephens. Not only did the case give us an update and confirmation of the current status of the royal prerogative, it also confirmed that the devolved powers of the regional assemblies under the Sewell convention, were not what those assemblies might of hoped. Which ever side of the 'Brexit' divide you sit on, from a constitutional perspective, the decision was of great importance. What should worry us all, are some of the reactions and comments that have flowed since the decision was announced.


The majority of states have a written constitution, not so the British. Ours is made from a variety of sources and for the most part, a bit like an expensive watch, we rather take it for granted that it will tick away in the background and show us the time when we need it.  Most people won't really care what makes it tick as long as it fulfils it's function.


Whilst it is forgivable that much of the population have shown such confusion as to the role the courts have played in this matter, there are those whose ignorance is just inexcusable. There is now quite a list whose remarks place them in this category but perhaps top of the list should be Iain Duncan Smith, the honourable member for Chingford and Woodford. The remarks, such as “They've stepped into new territory where they've actually told Parliament not just that they should do something but actually what they should do." and "“This is the issue here right now, so I was intrigued that it was a split judgement, I’m disappointed they've tried to tell Parliament how to run its business" have been sufficiently ridiculed elsewhere, however, the question remains as to whether these comments were born of a desire to mislead in order to fuel further ignorance and discontent or whether he really doesn't understand the role of the courts and the constitutional position of Parliament.


Either way, we are badly served. If we give him the benefit of the doubt and suppose that an MP who has been a parliamentarian for 25 years can really be so benighted of his own constitutional position as a Member of Parliament and the role of the courts, it must surely raise questions as to whether in these days of 'testing', an appropriate test might be introduced for prospective parliamentary candidates. For anyone who either out of necessity, or in a moment of boredom, has completed any of the online 'Citizenship' test materials, we expect better constitutional knowledge than his from those who wish to be 'new' citizens of Britain. It is truly bizarre that the knowledge required in the citizenship test exceeds that required to become an honourable member. 


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