This article reviews the nature of the British constitution, exploring its unusual ‘unwritten’ form, and presenting an account of its main substantive components. It also addresses a range of challenges which the contemporary constitution faces and argues throughout that the constitution is currently undergoing a profound transformation from being a largely parliamentary or political constitution to being a mainly legal or juridical order in which the courts will play a markedly expanded role, unprecedented in British constitutional history. It specifically outlines ‘Europe’ and New Labour's constitutional reforms. The present time is one of rapid and in many cases significant constitutional change in Britain, change which in some instances the Blair/Brown New Labour governments either caused or contributed to but which in other instances stems from different sources not altogether within the government's control.
This article argues that the story of the ‘judicialization’ of British politics is to some extent a story of paradox and contradiction, in which outstanding questions remain on each of the three issues of effectiveness, legitimacy, and accountability. The ‘concept of the rule of law’ was a source of judicial power and a source of conflict between judges and politicians throughout the twentieth century. Two examples are illustrated that show in different ways how legislation may be constrained by judicial perceptions about the rule of law, which may operate to confine the scope of the legislation, and with it the intention of parliament. The effectiveness and legitimacy of judicial review are described. Judicial power formally seems to be expanding in a number of ways. It is true that the compelling need for judicial independence creates institutional and intellectual barriers to the idea of judicial accountability.