Enhancing the Methodology of Formal Constitutional Change in the UK

  • Craig Prescott

Student thesis: Phd


Since 1997, the UK constitution has undergone a transformation. This has since become a rolling process which shows little sign of abating. However, some of this constitutional change has been criticised for being rushed, piecemeal and with little consideration of the broader constitution. Yet, despite these criticisms, the underlying methodology of constitutional change has not been discussed in any great detail. This thesis, focusing on formal constitutional change, argues that the methodology to deliver that change should be enhanced to address these concerns. After establishing the limits of formal constitutional change, this thesis then considers how constitutional issues are approached within government and suggests that a Department of Legal Affairs would improve the preparation of proposed changes before being presented to Parliament. The politics of constitutional change are then analysed, with a particular focus on the process of coalition negotiations, which has become a new part of the methodology. The parliamentary process is considered by analysing the parliamentary passage of what became the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 and the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006. Recent changes to parliamentary procedure have allowed Parliament to scrutinise constitutional legislation more effectively, although there are still areas for significant improvement, particularly during the Committee Stage in the House of Commons. The thesis then considers the role of referendums and establishes when a referendum is required either as a matter of law or convention. The thesis then shows how procedural innovations such as the constitutional conventions in Australia and Ireland or the citizens' assemblies in British Columbia and Ontario could be used in the UK. Also, as any recommendations of a constitutional convention or a citizens' assembly are usually put to the rest of the electorate at a referendum, the links between a convention or assembly and the referendum process are discussed. Taken together, these enhancements to discrete aspects of the methodology of constitutional change should ensure that changes are more considered and allow for a more a stable constitutional settlement.
Date of Award1 Aug 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorRodney Brazier (Supervisor) & Joseph Jaconelli (Supervisor)


  • referendum
  • parliament
  • constitution
  • constitutional change
  • government

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