The Structure of the United Kingdom

The Structure of the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom comprises the four nations of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The United Kingdom has a population of over 60 million, of which approximately 84 per cent live in England, three per cent in Northern Ireland, eight per cent in Scotland and five per cent in Wales.

The terms United Kingdom and Great Britain are often used interchangeably. In law, however, there is a distinction. The United Kingdom formally the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland comprises the four nations. Great Britain, however, refers to Scotland, England and Wales but not Northern Ireland. The term the British Islands refers to the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man (on which see further below).

The United Kingdom comprises England, Wales, Scotland (which together comprise Great Britain) and Northern Ireland. The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, while not forming part of the United Kingdom other than for the purposes of nationality law, are represented by the United Kingdom government in international affairs.

While it is correct to speak of the constitution of the United Kingdom, it should not be assumed that there is a single legal system within the constitutionally defined area. The English legal system extends to England and Wales. Scotland has its own system of private law which is distinct from English law.

Equally, in Northern Ireland, there exists a quite distinct legal system. Nevertheless, it is the Westminster Parliament which has hitherto legislated for each jurisdiction, and been supreme or sovereign. Change came about in 1998, with devolution of law making powers to a Scottish Parliament, a Northern Ireland Assembly and administrative powers to a Welsh Assembly.

Each enjoys limited legislative powers, which must be considered alongside the legislative powers which remain with Westminster. The United Kingdom will remain in being the object of devolution is to provide more representative and accountable regional government, and to strengthen rather than undermine the union with England.

The devolution of law-making powers to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales raises the question of the governance of England, for England alone remains without its own central legislative body. London now has its own form of devolved government, and there are regional government offices across England. Plans to introduce regional assemblies in England, however, failed to attract popular support.

Local Government:-

Local government antecedent central government by many centuries. Consideration will be given to local government. Suffice here to note that the country is divided into local authorities,  each having law making and administrative powers as delegated by parliament. Local authorities are entirely creatures of statute, accordingly, the only powers they have are those conferred by the sovereign Westminster Parliament. Increasingly, however, the law of the European Community requires action at local authority level.

With the devolution of legislative power to the Scottish Parliament, Northern Ireland Assembly and Welsh Assembly, and the government’s commitment to give further c ion to exceeding the principle of regional government to English regions, significant changes have occurred to the governmental structure of the United Kingdom

The British Islands:-

The United Kingdom, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man together comprise the British Islands. Accordingly, while the islands are not part of the United Kingdom, they are part of Her Majesty’s dominions, Citizens of the islands are treated as citizens of the United Kingdom for the purposes of the British Nationality Act 1981.

The Channel Islands:-

The Channel Islands comprise the islands of Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark. Historically part of the Duchy of Normandy, the Channel Islands remained in allegiance to the King of England when Normandy was lost by the English in 1204. he islands are organized under two separate Bailiwicks, the Bailiwick of Jersey and the Bailiwick of Guernsey, which includes Alderney and Sark. Each Bailiwick enjoys its own legislature, court structure and system of law. Alderney and Sark, whilst part of the Guernsey Bailiwick, enjoy a large measure of independence, having their own Legislative assemblies.

The States of Jersey comprises 52 elected members and five non elected members. The Scares of Guernsey comprises 61 members. Official links between the Crown and the United Kingdom government are through the Lieutenant Governor of the Bailiwicks. The legislature the States  is headed by the Bailiff and Deputy Bailiff.

The Isle of Man:-

The Isle of Man became formally linked with England in 1405. From that time until 1765, it was ruled by Kings or Lords of Man. Under Acts of Parliament of 1765 and 1825 the Westminster Parliament assumed, in the name of the Crown, the rights of the Lords.

In 1958, under the Isle of Man Act of that year, much control over the Isle was relinquished by Westminster. The Isle enjoys full powers of self-government and has its own system of courts and law. The head of the Executive, the Lieutenant Governor of the Isle of Man, is the formal link between the local administration and the Crown and United Kingdom government.

The parliament (the Court of Tynwald) has executive and legislative functions. It comprises the Lieutenant Governor, the Legislative Council and the House of Keys. The lower House  the House of Keys  has 24 members elected on a constituency basis for a five year term of office. The Legislative Council comprises the senior Bishop, the Attorney General, a judge and seven members elected by the House of Keys.

The Constitutional Relationship Between the Islands and the United Kingdom:-

The constitutional position of the islands is thus unique. In some respects, they are like miniature States with wide powers of self-government.

The Crown has ultimate responsibility for the islands. Under international law, the United Kingdom government is responsible both for the islands international relations and for their defense. Where legislative measures are to extend to the islands, these are effected through the Privy Council. Acts of Parliament extend to the islands only if the statute expressly so provides, or where the Act applies to all Her Majesty’s dominions by necessary implication.

The Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey do not accept that either the United Kingdom Parliament or the Queen in Council have the power to legislate for them without the consent of the local legislatures and registration in the Royal Court. Contrary to the accepted doctrine of parliamentary supremacy, the Channel Islands deny that Acts of Parliament or prerogative acts, under Orders in Council, can take effect without local registration.

The Islands and Europe:-

The European Community and Union:-

When the United Kingdom signed the Treaty of Rome, special arrangements had to be effected for the islands. Under Article 227(4) of the Treaty of Rome, the Treaty extends to all territories for which Member States have responsibility for their international relations. Were the Treaty to extend automatically to the islands, it would confer power on the institutions of the Community to legislate for the islands in matters such as taxation which the United Kingdom Parliament, consistent with the convention, would have no de facto power to legislate.

Accordingly the islands sought special terms in relation to membership of the Community. The resulting solution was that the United Kingdom government negotiated special status for the islands in relation to the Community: the islands are part of the Community for the purpose of free movement of industrial and agricultural goods but not for the purpose of free movement of persons or taxation provisions.

The European Convention on Human Rights:-

While the position of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man vis a vis the European Community is the same, the position is different in relation to the Convention. Initially, the Convention on Human Rights extended to both the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, and nowadays it continues to apply to the Channel Islands.

While the Convention initially applied to the Isle of Man, the case of Tyrer United Kingdom (1978) brought about a change. In this case, the European Court of Human Rights held that judicial birching in the Isle of Man of a juvenile amounted to degrading punishment in violation of Article 3 of the Convention. As a result, the Isle of Man government requested that the right of individual petition under the Convention be withdrawn. The United Kingdom government acceded to the request.