An Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution

Albert Venn Dicey, “An Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution” (1885)


This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. A year after the publication of Dicey’s Law of the Constitution, William Gladstone was reading it aloud in the House of Commons, citing it as authority. It remains, to this day, a starting point for the study of the English Constitution and comparative constitutional law. The Law of the Constitution elucidates the guiding principles of the modern constitution of England: the legislative sovereignty of Parliament, the rule of law, and the binding force of unwritten conventions. Dicey’s goal was “to provide students with a manual which may impress these leading principles on their minds, and thus may enable them to study with benefit in Blackstone’s Commentaries and other treatises of the like nature those legal topics which, taken together, make up the constitutional law of England.”

The twin pillars of the British constitution are the principle of parliamentary sovereignty and the rule of law. The former means that Parliament is the supreme law-making body, its Acts are the highest source of English Law. A parliament can enact legislation dealing with any subject, and the legislation of the parliament is superior to the jurisdiction of the courts. From page 38:

“The principle of Parliamentary sovereignty means neither more nor less than this, namely, that Parliament thus defined has, under the English constitution, the right to make or unmake any law whatever; and further, that no person or body is recognised by the law of England as having a right to override or set aside the legislation of Parliament.”

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