is the study of foundational or basic laws
of nation states and other political organizations. Constitutions
are the framework for government
and may limit or define the authority and procedure of political bodies to execute new laws and regulations.
Types of Constitutions
Not all nation states
have codified constitutions
, though all such states have a jus commune
, or law of the land, that may consist of a variety of imperative and consensual rules. These may include customary law
, statutory law
, judge made law
or international rules and norms
Functions of Constitutions
State and Legal Structure
Constitutional laws may often be considered second order rulemaking or rules about making rules to exercise power. It governs the relationships between the judiciary, the legislature and the executive with the bodies under its authority. One of the key tasks of constitutions within this context is to indicate hierarchies and relationships of power. For example, in a unitary state
, the constitution will vest ultimate authority in one central administration and legislature
, and judiciary
, though there is often a delegation of power or authority to local or municipal authorities. When a constitution establishes a federal state
, it will identify the several levels of government coexisting with exclusive or shared areas of jurisdiction over lawmaking, application and enforcement.
Human rights or civil liberties
form a crucial part of a country's constitution and govern the rights of the individual against the state. Most jurisdictions, like the United States
, have a single codified constitution, with a Bill of Rights
. A recent example is the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union
which was intended to be included in the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe
, that failed to be ratified. Perhaps the most important example is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
under the UN Charter
. These are intended to ensure basic political, social and economic standards that a nation state, or intergovernmental body is obliged to provide to its citizens.
Some countries like the United Kingdom, have no entrenched document setting out fundamental rights; in those jurisdictions the constitution is composed of statute, case law and convention. A case named Entick v. Carrington illustrates a constitutional principle deriving from the common law. Mr Entick's house was searched and ransacked by Sherriff Carrington. Carrington argued that a warrant from a Government minister, the Earl of Halifax was valid authority, even though there was no statutory provision or court order for it. The court, led by Lord Camden stated that,
"The great end, for which men entered into society, was to secure their property. That right is preserved sacred and incommunicable in all instances, where it has not been taken away or abridged by some public law for the good of the whole. By the laws of England, every invasion of private property, be it ever so minute, is a trespass... If no excuse can be found or produced, the silence of the books is an authority against the defendant, and the plaintiff must have judgment."
Inspired by John Locke, the fundamental constitutional principle is that the individual can do anything but that which is forbidden by law, while the state may do nothing but that which is authorised by law.
Another main function of constitutions may be to describe the procedure by which parliaments may legislate. For instance, special majorities may be required to alter the constitution. In bicameral legislatures, there may be a process laid out for second or third readings of bills before a new law can enter into force. Alternatively, there may further be requirements for maximum terms that a government can keep power before holding an election
Constitutions by Region
Click on the "show" button to bring up different countries. Those links in red have no pages written yet and are still waiting to be filled in.
The Study of Constitutional Law
Constitutional Law is a major focus of legal academia. For example, most law students in the United States are required to take a class in Con Law during their first year, and several Law Journals
, like the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law
and the Duke Journal of Constitutional Law & Public Policy
, are devoted to the discussion of Constitutional issues.