What You Need To Know About Constitutions

Over 230 constitutions from countries all over the world are presented here, including those of the United States of America, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Germany, India, France, South Africa, and Nigeria, amongst many more.

A constitution is a set of guiding principles or precedents that together form the basis of a government or other formal organization and outline the procedures to be followed in running the institution.

These ideas are considered to be embodied in a written constitution when they are officially down in a single document or series of legal papers, and in a codified constitution when they are all contained within a single complete text. The Constitution of the United Kingdom stands out as an uncodified constitution because it is contained in multiple basic Acts of a legislature, court cases, and treaties rather than a single document.

Governments, businesses, and even informal groups like clubs and churches all have constitutional needs. It might be said that the treaty that creates an international organization is also its constitution because it specifies the organization’s structure. A state’s constitution sets forth its guiding ideas, the legislative process, and the individuals authorized to make laws. Some constitutions, particularly codified constitutions, serve as restraints on state power by outlining limits that its leaders are not allowed to exceed, such as those enshrined in a bill of rights.

The Constitution of India, in its English translation, is 146,385 words long, making it the longest written constitution in the world; by contrast, the Constitution of Monaco is 3,814 words long. Given that several of its foundational papers date back to 1600, San Marino’s constitution has a strong claim to the title of world’s oldest active written constitution, while the United States’ Constitution holds the title of oldest active codified constitution. Since 1789, the average lifespan of a constitution is 19 years.

The term “constitution” derives from the Latin word “constitutio,” which was used for regulations and instructions, such as the imperial enactments. The term “constitution” was first used in French (constitutiones principis: edicta, mandata, decreta, rescripta). Over time, the word apostolic constitution came to be used specifically to refer to a decree issued by the Pope and has now become synonymous with such a ruling in canon law. William Blackstone coined the term to describe serious and flagrant breaches of the public trust, the likes of which would warrant a revolutionary response. Blackstone did not mean to incorporate the later American concept of judicial review when he used the term; after all, doing so “would be subversive of all government” because it would elevate the judicial power above the legislative power.

Constitutions are usually, but not always, safeguarded by a judicial body whose function it is to interpret the constitution and, if necessary, nullify executive and legislative acts that violate it. In certain nations, like Germany, a special constitutional court is in charge of this sole responsibility. Courts of general jurisdiction in some nations, such as Ireland, may also adjudicate such cases. The concept of declaring an act to be unconstitutional does not exist in other countries, such as the United Kingdom.

When a court rules that a law or a piece of legislation is unconstitutional because it goes against the Constitution, it is called a constitutional violation. If a public official goes beyond the scope of their constitutionally-granted authority, that official has committed a constitutional breach. Any attempt by the legislature to enact a bill that would violate the constitution without going through the required constitutional amendment procedure constitutes a violation of the constitution.

There are no equivalent courts in certain countries, especially those whose constitutions have not been codified. To give one concrete example, the United Kingdom has historically adhered to the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, which states that the laws enacted by the British Parliament are immune to judicial review.