Parliamentary sovereignty

Parliamentary sovereignty is a principle of the UK constitution. It makes Parliament the supreme legal authority in the UK, which can create or end any law. Generally, the courts cannot overrule its legislation and no Parliament can pass laws that future Parliaments cannot change. Parliamentary sovereignty is the most important part of the UK constitution.

Parliamentary sovereignty and the UK constitution

People often refer to the UK having an 'unwritten constitution' but that's not strictly true. It may not exist in a single text, like in the USA or Germany, but large parts of it are written down, much of it in the laws passed in Parliament - known as statute law.

Therefore, the UK constitution is often described as 'partly written and wholly uncodified'. (Uncodified means that the UK does not have a single, written constitution.)

Developments affecting Parliamentary sovereignty

Over the years, Parliament has passed laws that limit the application of parliamentary sovereignty. These laws reflect political developments both within and outside the UK.

They include:

  • The devolution of power to bodies like the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.
  • The Human Rights Act 1998.
  • The UK's entry to the European Union in 1972.
  • The decision to establish a UK Supreme Court in 2009, which ends the House of Lords function as the UK's final court of appeal.

These developments do not fundamentally undermine the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, since, in theory at least, Parliament could repeal any of the laws implementing these changes.

Related information

Living Heritage

Learn about the history of Parliament's role and the development of Parliamentary sovereignty

Related internet links