Audio of Lord Steel and Dr Meg Russell discussion on Lords Reform

The Constitution Society was pleased to work with our friends at the Constitution Unit to deliver a high profile discussion on the latest attempts at Lords Reform. Chaired by Dr Ruth Fox from the Hansard Society with Lord Steel and, constitutional expert, Dr Meg Russell, the event was attended by numerous members of the House of Lords and other key stakeholders.

To promote a free and frank discussion questions and comments were raised under the Chatham House Rule, but we are able to provide an audio recording of both Dr Russell’s and Lord Steel’s interventions. 

The issue of whether the current bill constitutes a threat to the current model of Commons and Lords relations was addressed by both speakers. The potential for Peers to ‘retire’ from the Lords and stand for election to the Commons was raised by Dr Russell and her article outlining her concerns can be read here.

The recording of the meeting is available to listen to here.

7th April 2014

Judicial Review and the Rule of Law: Who is in Control?

Judicial review faces an uncertain future. The government’s proposed reforms in this area – not least, restricting who may bring a claim – are attracting controversy.

 Our new report takes a step back from the heat of that debate to illuminate the broader picture from a constitutional perspective. What are the constitutional implications of attempts by the executive to limit the ability of individuals or organisations to challenge its decisions – and the power of the courts to rule on the lawfulness of its actions?

 What is the impact on the rule of law and the relationship between institutions of state? What are the potential consequences of altering the constitutional balance between our judges and Parliament? And why is this issue so important to the government, to Parliament and to lawyers?

Download this paper as a pdf here.


by Amy Street.

24th March 2014

Risk Management: Government Lawyers and the Provision of Legal Advice within Whitehall

Government lawyers are a powerful and influential group within Whitehall, and as such they deserve greater understanding. Law and legality are now ever-present consideration in the policy and decision making process. Government cannot escape the reach of the law – if it ever could. The result is that lawyers have become more integrated into the policy and decision making process in Whitehall because of the increasing penetration of law into government. But because law is inescapable, and its effect uncertain, lawyers talk of legal risk rather than legality and illegality. Government lawyers see themselves not as ‘guardians’ but as managers of legal risk.

This short study examines the work of government lawyers in Whitehall, looking at the changes over the past thirty years in the way that legal advice has been provided. It examines the role of lawyers in the policy and decision making process, the hierarchy of legal advice and the professional norms that government lawyers adhere to. Finally, there is a case study of the role of government lawyers in the decision to use military force against Iraq in 2002-2003.

Download this paper as a pdf here.


by Dr Ben Yong.

24th March 2014

Parliamentary Privilege: Evolution or Codification?

Parliamentary privilege is essential to the functioning of a modern, democratic Parliament. Free speech in Parliament is as crucial now as it was when the Bill of Rights was enacted in the seventeenth century. However if Parliament has an ‘adversary’ in the twenty-first century it is no longer an over-powerful monarch but may be an over-powerful judiciary.

 While its constitutional importance remains paramount, the modern context of Parliamentary privilege has changed. Moreover, the word ‘privilege’ in our modern, democratic society has negative, elitist connotations. If the Houses are to justify privilege in the twenty-first century it is essential to convince the public that it remains a vital element in the functioning of Parliament in a democratic age.

 This paper examines whether this is best achieved by leaving things alone or by principled legislation. It considers the Government’s Green Paper on Parliamentary privilege and asks how real is the danger of judicial activism in the affairs of Parliament and whether that danger is increased or diminished by a new statue.

Download this paper as a pdf here.


by Richard Gordon Q.C. and Sir Malcolm Jack KCB, PhD, FSA.

24th March 2014

Where the Party Finance Debate Stands and Prospects for Reform

The Constitution Society is pleased to announce the following event from our friends at the McDougall Trust.

Speaker:  Professor Justin Fisher, Brunel University London

Chair:  Michael Steed, McDougall Trust

Venue: Conference Room, City Temple Conference Centre, Holborn Viaduct, London EC1A 2DE (link to map below)

About the topic: An opportunity to hear where the long-running debate stands on party finance and prospects for reform.

About the speaker: Justin Fisher is Professor of Political Science in the Politics and History department at Brunel University London.

Trust contact point: the Trust’s Administrator, Paul Wilder (telephone: 020 7620 1080 or e-mail: or post: 6 Chancel Street, London SE1 0UX). Reminders will be sent confirming event details. Do check the website for details of future workshops.

21st March 2014

Nat Le Roux gives evidence to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee

Director of The Constitution Society Nat le Roux, gives evidence to the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee on the role and powers of the judiciary in the UK and elsewhere, with particular respect to the UK constitution and powers of judicial review.

The video of this can be viewed here.

Additionally please download our paper on Judicial Review and watch an expert panel debate the subject at the paper’s launch here.

10th March 2014

Constitutional Responsibilities of the Civil Service

A personal view by Sir Christopher Foster of the Better Government Initiative, this latest paper outlines how pressures to reduce civil service impartiality could ultimately call into question our lack of legally enforceable constitutional constraints on ministerial action.

Can a convention based constitution hold up in the face of civil service changes?

Download the paper here.

26th February 2014

If Scotland says ‘No’: What Next For The Union? – Our Latest Pamphlet

If we are to believe the polls, Scottish voters will reject independence in September 2014. If so, what happens next? A ‘no’ vote will not mean ‘no change’, and it is very likely that unionist parties will head into the 2015 general election with proposals for further devolution.

What will these policies look like? Is the inevitable ‘next step’ a transfer of significant tax-raising powers to Holyrood? And what are the consequences for the Union as a whole?

The Constitution Society has brought together three leading think tanks form across the political spectrum to explore these questions and propose some possible answers.

With contributions form Professor Michael Keating, Magnus Linklater, Jim Gallagher and Philip Blond, this collaboration with CentreForum, the Fabian Society and ResPublica sets the scene for the post-referendum debate.

The pamphlet can be downloaded here.

18th September 2013

The Constitution Society launches new report: Parliamentary Privilege – Evolution or Codification?

The Constitution Society’s latest paper – Parliamentary Privilege: Evolution or codification - will be formally launched tonight at a dinner for select guests. However the PDF is now available to download here. The authors are Richard Gordon QC, and Sir Malcolm Jack, former Clerk of the House of Commons.

Parliamentary privilege is vital to the effective running of a modern, democratic Parliament and free speech in Parliament is still a crucial component. Today an over-powerful judiciary could be considered Parliament’s main ‘adversary’. In modern times the context, within which parliamentary privilege works, has changed greatly.

This paper examines how best to convince the public that parliamentary privilege remains essential to a twenty-first century parliament. It considers options such as principles legislation on the issue or leaving things alone. It considers the Government’s Green Paper on Parliamentary privilege and asks how real is the danger of judicial activism in the affairs of Parliament and whether that danger is increased or diminished by a new statute.

For any queries on the paper or the launch please email James Hallwood via


Eleanor Laing MP joins The Constitution Society Advisory Board

The Constitution Society is delighted to announce that  Eleanor Laing MP has joined us as a key member of our Advisory Board. Eleanor has been the Conservative Member of Parliament for Epping Forest since 1997 and, before the 2010 General Election, Eleanor was the Shadow Minister for Justice.

Eleanor has a long been at the forefront of constitutional discussions in Parliament, serving as Frontbench spokesman on Constitutional Affairs in 2000, a key member of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee since 2010 and an important voice on the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform. Eleanor is also the Chairman of the 1922′s Sub-Committee on Home and Constitutional Affairs and the government’s Special Representative to Gibraltar.

Eleanor joins Labour Peer, Lord Howarth of Newport and former Liberal Democrat MP, David Howarth, bringing political balance to our Advisory Board and key expertise. 

We very much look forward to working with Eleanor in the future.

To see the rest of our Advisory Board, our Trustees, and staff click here