Parliamentary Sovereignty and European Communities Act 1972
Under any constitution, whether written or unwritten, there must be a source of ultimate authority: one supreme power over and above all other power in state. Under the British Constitution, in theory if not in practice, the highest source of authority is the United Kingdom Parliament and Acts of Parliament are the highest form of law. Writing in the late nineteen century, Dicey took the view that the supremacy of Parliament is ‘the dominant characteristic of our political institutions’.
Dicey certainly did not approve of democracy as that concept is now understood. In today’s world of increasing economic legal and political interdependence the traditional theory of sovereignty has an air of unreality about it. International relations and obligations, membership of the European Union, devolution of law-making powers away from Westminster to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and other factors, all restrict what Parliament can in fact do: theory and practice are increasingly separated.
The establishment of parliamentary supremacy was a product of the revolution of 1688. The Bill of Rights 1688 declared: “That the pretended power of suspending and dispensing with laws or the execution of laws by regal authority as it hath been assumed and exercised of late is illegal without the consent of Parliament”. In Pickin v. British Railways Board Lord Reid said that the idea that an Act of Parliament could be disregarded if it was contrary to the law of God or natural justice has become obsolete.
There are many theoretical perspectives on parliamentary supremacy, but the most quoted even now is Dicey’s Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution of 1885. Dicey, set out three main principles underpinning Parliament’s legislative supremacy:
1. Parliament is the supreme law-making body and it may enact laws on any subject matter.
2. No Parliament may be bound by a...