Parliamentary sovereignty is an
authority of binding laws within the legal system, which consists of the House
of Commons, the House of Lords and the Crown. Parliament can make or unmake any
laws and courts do not have any power over its legislation. However,
parliamentary sovereignty has been constrained, especially since the UK has become
a member of the European Union in 1973. Therefore, although the UK Parliament is
supreme and sovereign in many situations, the fact that the European Union law
dominates the UK’s national law restrains in a way the power of Parliament in
the law making process.

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Main Body

Parliamentary Sovereignty is
absolute – A.V Dicey

Parliament can make or unmake
any laws

It is widely perceived that
Parliament is the absolute legal body that determines the UK law, as there is
no written constitution. The jurist and constitutional theorist A.V Dicey
states that Parliament is ‘pure and absolute’, as it can make, enact or repeal any
laws. This is supported in Cheney v Conn, where it was held that courts
are bound to follow the Acts of Parliament rather than the International
Treaties. The sovereignty of the UK Parliament is further supported in R v Secretary
of State for the Home Department, ex parte Simms and O’Brien, where Lord
Hoffman suggests that ‘Parliamentary Sovereignty means that Parliament can, if
it chooses legislate contrary to fundamental principles of Human Rights’. However,
the UK Parliament must face the political costs that may arise due to its
decisions, as the principle of legality suggests.

Parliament cannot be bound by
its predecessors or bind its successors

Parliamentary Sovereignty, as Dicey states, derives from the fact that
Parliament cannot be bound by a previous Parliament or bind a future
Parliament. The supremacy of Parliament is obvious in the doctrine of implied repeal,
where judges are bound to follow the latest Parliament legislation with no
reference to older statutes. In Vauxhall Estates v Minister of Health,
it was held that the latest 1925 Housing Act prevails the Acquisition of Land Act
in 1919. However, the principle of implied repeal does not apply to
constitutional statutes, because Parliament must use express words to repeal,
as stated in Thoburn v Sunderland City Council. This approach is further
developed in HS2 v Secretary of State for Transport, where
it was made clear that if two constitutional statutes are inconsistent, then courts
must assume that there is no presumption of implied repeal.


Nobody can doubt the validity
of an Act of Parliament

Finally, Dicey suggests that
nobody can doubt the validity of an Act of Parliament. He establishes the
legislative supremacy of Parliament and defines the constitutional history of
the UK about the way it is governed and connected to the identity of the UK. In
British Railways Board v Pickin, Lord Reid suggests that ‘the function
of the Court is to construe and apply the enactments of Parliament’, implying
that courts should not look behind the words of Parliament and must not doubt the
validity of Acts. Moreover, the supreme role of the UK Parliament is emphasized
in Jackson v Attorney-General, where it was held that the power
of the UK Parliament is unlimited. 

Limits on
Parliamentary Sovereignty

European Communities Act 1972

However, it can be argued that Parliamentary
Sovereignty is limited due to the entrance of the UK in the European Union. If
European and domestic law are inconsistent, then the European law prevails, as
stated in Van Gend en Loos. Moreover, the primacy of the European Union
law is emphasized in Costa v ENEL, where the European Court of Justice held
that Community law must take precedence over inconsistent national law, without
further enactment by the UK Parliament. In addition, in International
Handelgesellschaft, it was held that Community law should even override
constitutional laws enacted by Member States. The way national law adapts to
Community law is evident in Macarthy’s v Smith, where Lord Denning suggests
that the EU law is part of the UK’s constitution.

The primacy of Community law is
further developed in Factortame, where European Union law overrides
national law in the event of an irresolvable conflict. The House of Lords held
that the European Communities Act prevailed the Merchant Shipping Act that was
enacted at a later date. The Merchant Shipping Act was established by the UK
government to prevent foreigners registering their vessels in the UK and thus
having the same privileges as local fishermen. However, this Act could not be
enforced, as it was contradicted with the European law. Therefore, as
Parliament must legislate consistently with Community law, Parliamentary Sovereignty
is restricted.

Human Rights Act 1998

Parliamentary Sovereignty may be
constrained due to the Human Rights Act 1998. The Human Rights Act suggests
that national legislation should be consistent with the European Convention on
Human Rights. In R (Anderson) v Secretary of State for the Home Department,
the House of Lords suggested that the actions of the Home Secretary were
incompatible with the Human Rights Act, as he was a member of the government and
not of the court. He should not have the power to fix the tariff of life
imprisonment for the conviction of murder and thus s.29 of the Crime Act 1997
was incompatible with Article 6 on the European Convention on Human Rights. Therefore,
the Human Rights Act could constrain the sovereignty of Parliament to some
extent, where statutes are incompatible with the Human Rights Act.

Parliamentary Sovereignty and
the European Union

Nevertheless, it is considered
that Parliament can still remain the sovereign legal body for the creation of UK
laws in the British constitution. The fact that the UK has decided to leave
from the European Union, through the process of Brexit, suggests that the European
law will no longer override the UK law. According to Article 50 of the
Treaty on EU, any member of the European Union could withdraw with its own
constitutional requirements. As stated in Miller, the UK Parliament and
not the government should have the power to trigger Article 50 for the exit of
the UK from the European Union, emphasizing in this way the supremacy of the UK


Overall, the doctrine of
Parliamentary Sovereignty has been limited to some extent, as the UK must now
legislate consistently with the European law since it is a member of the
European Union. However, the fact that the UK has decided to withdraw from the
European Union suggests that the European law will no longer prevail in the UK
and that Parliament will remain the fundamental body in the UK constitution. Nevertheless,
considering that the UK remains a member of the European Union, the UK Parliament
will not have complete authority over the British constitution, as its
decisions and actions should be consistent with the legislation in the European

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