The Constitution of the United Kingdom: A Contextual Analysis

November 8, 2012

Author: Peter Leyland

Edition: Second

Publisher: Hart

Pages: 362

Price: £12.95

ISBN: 9781849461603

For many people, the very idea of a UK constitution is cause for bewilderment. A constitution brings to mind a grand statement of rights and principles set out in a single document (of the sort found in the US, Germany and South Africa). That the UK lacks such a document must mean that it has no constitution; or at least, as one commentator memorably quipped, that the UK's "unwritten" constitution is "not worth the paper it's not written on".

These are the types of widely held views that Peter Leyland confronts in his short book The Constitution of the United Kingdom. His aim is to provide a concise, contextual and accessible introduction to the UK constitution. To those three Cs, one might add a fourth: comparative. The author's obvious interest and expertise in comparative scholarship permeates his book. Indeed, it belongs to a series devoted to the constitutional systems of the world.

There are many things to praise about this book's second edition, and perhaps just one question mark to raise against it. To begin with the pluses, Leyland undoubtedly makes good on all four Cs. His written style is admirably clear, conversational and free from jargon. The chapter discussions are punchy and never too drawn out. The arguments and accounts of abstract principles are brought to life with highly topical examples from the UK and beyond (including, most notably, such hot potatoes as MPs' expenses, phone hacking and the pros and cons of coalition government).

What may seem an unlikely additional plus, given the book's aims, is its ambitious coverage. Just about everything one would expect to find in a meatier, more advanced textbook is touched upon. There are fairly substantial entries on administrative law and the case law under the Human Rights Act 1998; and there is an entire chapter on national and local devolution. Moreover, Leyland does not baulk at introducing many of the major academic debates surrounding these and other areas (for instance, the constitutional implications of greater use of private-sector modes of governance).

What about the question mark I mentioned? Constitution sits uneasily somewhere between the authoritative undergraduate textbooks on UK constitutional law and the ever-expanding range of student "nutshell" guides.

So who should use it? It is the perfect companion for overseas students attempting to compare the UK constitution with their own. It will be of immense interest to anybody with a general interest in UK law, politics and history. But it arguably lacks the depth and detail to serve as more than a preliminary or supplementary resource to degree-level law students in the UK.

Who is it for? Overseas students, general enthusiasts of law, politics and history, UK law undergraduates - but only as a preliminary or supplementary resource.

Presentation: Concise, contextual and accessible.

Would you recommend it? Yes, for the categories of readers listed above.

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