Parliamentary Sovreignty is a fundamental part of the UK’s constitution, where Parliament is supreme and has the power to create or end any law. Parliament has the authority to not only make laws that govern the country but also amend some of the laws that it deems fit. It essentially gives the parliament supremacy over all the other governmental bodies including the judicial and the executive body. Hence, Parliament is not bound by any written law of the land and can act as it deems necessary. There are a few countries which have sovereign parliaments and which includes, Israel, The United Kingdom, Finland, Sweden, Papua New Guinea, Netherlands, Jamaica, New Zealand, Solomon Islands and Barbados.
British jurist AV Dicey, purported that, ‘the principle of parliamentary sovereignty means the right to make or unmake any law and 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’. The first fundamental principle of Dicey’s theory is that the Parliament can make or unmake any law.
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This was evident once the lifespan of Parliament was extended from three to seven years through the enactment of the Septennial Act 1715 out of fear of the results of an election. His Majesty’s Declaration of Abdication Act 1936 demonstrates Parliaments capability to change the line of succession to the throne and the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 demonstrate Parliament legislating over its own procedures.
Besides that, The War Damage Act 1965 overruled a House of Lords decision in Burmah Oil Company v Lord Advocate 1965 AC 75 HL and is a proof of Parliaments ability to make or unmake any law as it was able to legislate with retrospective effect.
Dicey’s second theory is that Parliament cannot be bound by its predecessors or bind its successors. The case of Vauxhall Estates Ltd v Liverpool Corporation 1932 1 KB 733 establishes dispute between The Housing Act 1925 and the Acquisition of Land Act 1919 where it was held that the provisions of the later act would apply; this is often referred to as as ‘implied repeal’ and demonstrates Parliaments inability to bind its successors. Apart from that, Ellen Streets Estates Ltd. v Minister for Health 1934 1 KB 590 held that the later Act must apply and the aim of Parliament to revoke the legislation must be given effect ‘just because it is the will of the legislature’.
The third principle of Dicey’s theory is that no-one can question Parliaments laws. In Edinburgh ; Dalkeith Railway Co v Wauchope 1842 UKHL J12, Wauchope challenged an Act of Parliament on the grounds that he was not given notice of its introduction as a bill into Parliament. His challenge was rejected on the point that the courts are ‘prohibited from investigating whether the proper internal procedures have in fact been complied with. This was conjointly affirmed in Pickin v British Railways Board 1974 AC 765 HL. The courts cannot question the validity of an Act of Parliament or declare it void; illustrating the role of the judiciary in upholding the principle of parliamentary sovereignty.
In fact, parliament could amend or repeal the Statute of West Minister 1931 . Section 4 provides that “No parliament shall extend or to be deemed to extend, to a dominion… unless it is expressly declared in that dominion has requested, and consented to the enactment thereof” The statute of westminster 1931, s.4.
However as Lord Sankey said in the British Coal Corporation v The King 1935 AC 500 that, ‘Parliament, as a matter of fact, could undoubtedly repeal or disregard section 4 of the Statute.
However, in R (Jackson) v Attorney General 2005 UKHL 56 the validity and cogency of the Hunting Act 2004 and use of the Parliament Act 1949 were challenged. It was affirmed that the courts cannot challenge the validity of primary legislation, irrespective of the way an Act has been passed. Nevertheless Jackson raised issues of sovereignty in practice, where Lord Hope stated, ‘the English principle of the absolute legislative sovereignty of Parliament is being qualified’. Parliamentary sovereignty is apparently sustained, particularly by the judiciary and is justified in that the main legislative House, the Commons, is democratically elected. Yet the acknowledgement by Lord Hope in Jackson recognises that the concept is increasingly subject to limitations.
The only challenge to the validity of Acts of Parliament now emerges from the European Union, whose Court of Justice can strike down Member State legislation which does not accord with EU primary legislation. This was established in the case of R v Secretary of State for Transport ex parte Factortame 1990 UKHL 7, where it was held that the UK’s Merchant Shipping Act 1988 designed to prevent Spanish trawlers from fishing in British waters by registering their boats as British was invalid because it detracts from EU law, which is supreme over national law. For the UK Parliament this demonstrated the weakness of Acts of Parliament to scrutiny by an outside body.
However, it is questionable that this presents a crucial challenge to parliamentary supremacy because at any time Parliament could withdraw itself from the European Union. Nor does the Human Rights Act 1998 pose a real challenge to supremacy. As one commentator points out, Parliament is free to choose not to amend a provision of the Act even when it has been declared incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights by a judge.
In theory, the Parliament remains wholly sovereign and the doctrine of Parliamentary Sovereignty remains untouched. In other words, the legislative supremacy of the Parliament has not been affected. Hence, the legal sovereignty is not lost, as the Parliament maintains its powers based on the doctrine of Parliamentary Supremacy. Nevertheless, although it is well within the Parliament’s capabilities to simply leave the European Union as well as abolish the devolved government, it is clear that it is highly unlikely that such an event would happen due to obvious political restrictions in the modern world. Essays, UK. (November 2013). AV Dicey’s Definition of Parliamentary Sovereignty. Retrieved from https://www.ukessays.com/services/example-essays/law/diceystripartite-parliamentary-sovereignty-anachronism.php?vref=1
In conclusion, A.V Dicey’s doctrine of Parliamentary Sovereignty, though still absolute in terms of the Parliament’s legal sovereignty, is otherwise limited in terms of political sovereignty. Perhaps, this is the reason that the doctrine of Parliamentary Sovreignty has been said to be ‘out of place’ in the modern United Kingdom.