Judiciary Rising: Constitutional Change in the United Kingdom

Delaney, Erin F. | January 1, 2014

Britain is experiencing a period of dramatic change that challenges centuries-old understandings of British constitutionalism. In the past fifteen years, the British Parliament enacted a quasi-constitutional bill of rights; devolved legislative power to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland; and created a new Supreme Court. British academics debate how each element of this transformation can be best understood: is it consistent with political constitutionalism and historic notions of parliamentary sovereignty, or does it usher in a new regime that places external, rule-of- law-based limits on Parliament? Much of this commentary examines these changes in a piecemeal fashion, failing to account for the systemic factors at play in the British system.

This Article assesses the cumulative force of the many recent constitutional changes, shedding new light on the changing nature of the British constitution. Drawing on the U.S. literature on federalism and judicial power, the Article illuminates the role of human rights and devolution in the growing influence of the U.K. Supreme Court. Whether a rising judiciary will truly challenge British notions of parliamentary sovereignty is as yet unknown, but scholars and politicians should pay close attention to the groundwork being laid.