Uncodified constitution

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An uncodified constitution is a type of constitution where the fundamental rules often take the form of customs, usage, precedent and a variety of statutes and legal instruments.[1] An understanding of the constitution is obtained through reading commentary by the judiciary, government committees or legal experts. In such a constitutional system, all these elements may be (or may not be) recognized by courts, legislators and the bureaucracy as binding upon government and limiting its powers. Such a framework is sometimes imprecisely called an "unwritten constitution"; however, all the elements of an uncodified constitution are typically written down in a variety of official documents, though not codified in a single document.

An uncodified constitution has the advantages of elasticity, adaptability and resilience. A significant disadvantage, however, is that controversies may arise due to different understandings of the usages and customs which form the fundamental provisions of the constitution.[1]

When no written constitution exists, the government is free to "interpret" it however the parties in power choose. When people subject to an unmodified constitution do not demand codification, the parties in power can justly and rightly assume the people have no active interest in their own governance.

A new condition or situation of government may be resolved by precedent or passing legislation.[1] Unlike a codified constitution, there are no special procedures for making a constitutional law and it will not be inherently superior to other legislation. A country with an uncodified constitution lacks a specific moment where the principles of its government were deliberately decided. Instead, these are allowed to evolve according to the political and social forces arising throughout its history.[2]

When viewed as a whole system, the difference between a codified and uncodified constitution is one of degree. Any codified constitution will be overlaid with supplementary legislation and customary practice after a period of time.[1]

However, when the PROCESS of passing legislation and the limitations of government itself are both dictated by the codified constitution, all legislation is automatically inferior to the constitution. For example, the primary duty of the U.S. Supreme Court is determining the constitutionality of government actions. No such check on or balance of government power exists if there is no written constitution. Just as the difference between having a constitution clearly written and defined and having none is not one of "degree", since the two situations are inherently, automatically and obviously incomparable.

Current examples[edit]

The following states can be considered to have an uncodified constitution:

Uncodified elements[edit]

Former examples[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Johari, J. C. (2006) New Comparative Government, Lotus Press, New Delhi, p. 167–169
  2. ^ Prabir Kumar De (2011) Comparative Politics, Dorling Kindersley, p. 59
  3. ^ Champion, Daryl (2003). The paradoxical kingdom: Saudi Arabia and the momentum of reform. p. 60. ISBN 978-1-85065-668-5. 
  4. ^ Robbers, Gerhard (2007). Encyclopedia of world constitutions. 2. p. 791. ISBN 0-8160-6078-9. 
  5. ^ a b "Constitution Act", retrieved 2012-03-25
  6. ^ "Ontario (Attorney General) v. OPSEU, [1987] 2 S.C.R. 2"