Judicial Review Launch – watch the video online

The launch of The Constitution Society’s latest paper, Judicial Review and the Rule of Law: Who is in Control? at the British Academy is now available to watch online. 

Our Research Director and author of the report, Amy Street, was joined by Bill Cash MP, Sir Konrad Schiemann and Richard Gordon QC as they discussed the important topic of judicial review and the relationship between the concepts of the Rule of Law and Parliamentary Supremacy. The event was chaired by Nat le Roux, Director of The Constitution Society.

The panel discussion can be viewed here.

3rd January 2014

Judicial Review paper online

The Constitution Society’s latest paper, Judicial Review and the Rule of Law: Who is in control? is now available online.

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.

This 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? 

9th December 2013

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

The Constitution Society, in partnership with the Constitution Unit, is pleased to announce the launch of our new pamphlet Risk Management: Government Lawyers and the Provision of Legal Advice within Whitehall.

Written by Dr Ben Yong the report looks into the important role that legal advice plays in the British political system. To see an interview with Dr Yong to mark the launch of the report, click here.

Government lawyers are a powerful and influential group within Whitehall, and as such they deserve greater understanding. Law and legality are now ever-present considerations in the policy and decision making process. Government cannot escape from 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. 

26th November 2013

Judicial Review: a new report from The Constitution Society

The Constitution Society is pleased to announce the launch of a paper on the important topic of judicial review. Authored by Amy Street, previously a co-author of Select Committees and Coercive Powers – Clarity or Confusion? our new pamphlet will be a timely intervention in an area of increasing political salience.

To mark the launch of the paper a panel discussion is being held at the British Academy on 19th November from 6pm. Amy Street will be joined by Richard Gordon QC, Sir Konrad Schiemann and Graham Allen MP (Chair of the Political and Constitutional Committee).

Hard copies of the pamphlet will be available on the evening and a PDF will be on this website following the launch.

If you wish to attend the event please email our events team via events@constitutionsoc.org.uk 


7th November 2013

“If Scotland says ‘No’ – what next for the Union” – launch at the party conferences

The Constitution Society was delighted to partner with three leading think tanks to launch our new pamphlet If Scotland says ‘No’ – what next for the Union at Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative party conferences. 

Working with CentreForum we launched the paper in Glasgow with a panel made up of Rt Hon Michael Moore MP (then Secretary of State for Scotland, Professor Michael Keating (University of Aberdeen), Magnus Linklater (senior journalist) with Mure Dickie (Financial Times) chairing. 

The report attracted a packed audience down in Brighton at Labour Conference with a panel made up of Margaret Curran MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland), Owen Smith MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Wales), James Hallwood (The Constitution Society), Sarah Boyack MSP and Marcus Roberts from the Fabian Society chairing. 

Finally at Conservative Party conference we were joined by Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, Rt Hon David Mundell MP, Nat le Roux (The Constitution Society), Phillip Blond (ResPublica) with Alan Cochrane (Scottish Telegraph) in the chair. A video of the final session can be found here.

We were pleased with the keen interest with which our paper was met and the informed questions and opinions of the audiences at all three party conferences. 

Discussion ranged from whether the referendum will be won or lost to the ‘English question’ with many topics amongst that mix. Let us know what your thoughts are by tweeting us via @Con_Soc 

25th October 2013

Member of our Advisory Board is the new Deputy Speaker

The Constitution Society is delighted at the news that Eleanor Laing MP has been voted by the Commons as the new Deputy Speaker. Mrs Laing is a member of our Advisory Board and a leading voice in Parliament on constitutional matters.

Mrs Laing won in the sixth round of voting with 257 votes and is now formally titled ‘First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means’. The full results of today’s vote can be found here and the moment Mrs Laing was announced as the winner of the ballot is available on the BBC News website.

Eleanor Laing won cross-party support for her bid to be Deputy Speaker and will assume her post immediately. 

Our Associate Director, James Hallwood, welcomed the news: “Eleanor is a great parliamentarian and has a sound knowledge of constitutional issues. Her election is a testament to the respect her fellow Members hold for her across all of the parties. Eleanor continues to make a very valuable contribution to our Advisory Board and we offer our warm congratulations on her appointment”.

16th October 2013

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

Better Government Initiative Launches New Paper

The Constitution Society is pleased to note that the Better Government Initiative has launched a new paper on the important topic of Civil Service reform. The BGI is supported by The Constitution Society and is made up of high ranking former civil servants who are dedicated to promoting better governance of the United Kingdom. 

Civil Service Reform: Hidden Dangers? was written by the BGI’s Phillip Ward and explores issues surrounding developments in the British Civil Service, making the case for cross-party agreement on any future changes and acting as a reminder that the Civil Service belongs to no single government.

The report can be downloaded here.

12th September 2013

Comment: The Syria vote was a triumph of parliamentary sovereignty

There are several significant angles to last night’s Commons vote on Syria. Foreign policy experts look at Britain’s role in the world and our relationship with the United States; domestic politicos look through the prism of party politics, asking who came out better between Miliband and Cameron. Meanwhile, Syria continues to suffer and we can only now hope that inaction is the lesser of two evils.

But amid the fallout, easily obscured by the more obvious issues of the day, is a seismic shift in the British constitution, an evolution that has crept up quietly but which serves to empower Parliament and constrain the executive. 

While the Prime Minister officially retains the Royal Prerogative to declare war, it is clear that this power is now tempered by the convention that Parliament must vote on the matter beforehand.

Previous votes on Iraq and Libya, while contentious, saw the government of the day validated by the Commons. Before this it had been understood that the executive had a right and duty to declare war as it saw fit. The real test of this innovation was whether a government convinced of the need for military action would respect a vote that opposed it.

The fact that Cameron had to promise the House that it would have a second vote, the fact he has now changed course so dramatically – while retaining the right to declare war – shows that votes like this are not simply rubber stamps but have become a binding convention that can change the foreign policy of a government. Read more ›

30th August 2013

Sir John Elvidge APPG Meeting On Scottish Referendum

The latest meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the British Constitution was honoured to have as its main speaker, Sir John Elvidge, former Permanent Secretary to the Scottish government 2003 – 2010.

Sir John opened the discussion of the issues surrounding the upcoming independence vote by: firstly laying out what he believed were three misjudgments about the nature of constitutional change relating to it, secondly stating what he believed were the two most interesting judgments the UK government has made in its wrangling with the independence movement, and finally outlining the most difficult decision the Scottish government has to consider and get right in this process. Following his introduction, the distinguished guest fielded questions from a room full of parliamentarians and interested observers on the nature of the upcoming referendum, its most important developments so far, and where it might go in the future. 

 Topics discussed included:

  • The calculated risks taken by both governments in framing how the referendum will take place.
  • The extent to which voters’ decisions will be driven by emotional and idealistic notions tied to culture or hard-headed economic reasoning.
  • How the SNP plans to deal with fiscal issues of social security spending and its investment in renewable energy.
  • How important the UK’s continuing EU membership is to Scottish voters.

  And perhaps most intriguingly…

  • The continuing future of ‘DevoMax’ as an alternative option to a Yes/No decision.
  • What a close-margin outcome to the vote could mean for the future of Scotland, independent or not.
  • The possible future of the Orkney, Shetland, and Western Isles if the rest of the country decides to vote Yes.

The full audio recording of this meeting can be found here to listen to or download along with a host of other APPG podcasts.

Read more ›

13th August 2013