Examine the meaning and evolution of the doctrine of parliamentary supremacy.

 Q. Examine the meaning and evolution of the doctrine of parliamentary supremacy.

Examine the meaning and evolution of the doctrine of parliamentary supremacy, What is parliamentary supremacy, Parliamentary Sovereignty | Definition, Features & History - The doctrine of parliamentary supremacy, also known as parliamentary sovereignty, is a fundamental principle of the constitutional framework in many parliamentary democracies. It asserts that the legislative body, typically parliament, is the supreme legal authority, and its laws cannot be overruled or annulled by any other governmental body, including the judiciary.

Historical Roots of Parliamentary Supremacy:

The origins of parliamentary supremacy can be traced back to medieval England. The Magna Carta of 1215, while not explicitly establishing parliamentary supremacy, laid the groundwork by limiting the powers of the monarch and asserting certain rights. The subsequent development of the English Parliament played a crucial role in shaping the doctrine. The 17th-century conflicts between the monarchy and Parliament, such as the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution of 1688, further established the supremacy of Parliament over the monarchy. The Bill of Rights in 1689 solidified parliamentary control by declaring that parliamentary proceedings were free from royal interference. Examine the meaning and evolution of the doctrine of parliamentary supremacy.

Dicey's Formulation:

The doctrine of parliamentary supremacy was crystallized in the 19th century by the constitutional scholar A.V. Dicey. In his work "Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution" (1885), Dicey articulated three principles that form the core of parliamentary supremacy. Firstly, Parliament can legislate on any matter; secondly, no Parliament can pass laws that bind future Parliaments; and thirdly, no other body, including the judiciary, can question the validity of parliamentary legislation. Dicey's formulation became a touchstone for understanding the nature of parliamentary supremacy and its implications for the legal and political system.

Parliamentary Supremacy in the United Kingdom:

In the United Kingdom, parliamentary supremacy has been a fundamental constitutional principle. The absence of a written constitution and the unwritten nature of the UK constitution contribute to the centrality of parliamentary supremacy. The UK Parliament, consisting of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, is the supreme legislative authority. The courts, in line with Dicey's formulation, traditionally refrain from invalidating or questioning parliamentary legislation. However, this absolute view of parliamentary supremacy has been subject to challenges and modifications in recent years.

Challenges to Parliamentary Supremacy:

Despite its historical significance, parliamentary supremacy has faced challenges in the modern era. Membership in the European Union introduced a layer of complexity, as EU law could override national legislation. The European Communities Act 1972 incorporated EU law into UK law, allowing for the supremacy of EU law over domestic legislation. This led to a tension between parliamentary supremacy and the obligations arising from EU membership. The Brexit process, marked by the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, aimed at restoring full parliamentary sovereignty by repealing the 1972 Act and ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK.

Constitutional Reforms and Human Rights Act:

Constitutional reforms in the late 20th century also impacted the traditional notion of parliamentary supremacy. The Human Rights Act 1998 incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law, enabling individuals to challenge legislation on human rights grounds. This represented a shift from absolute parliamentary supremacy to a more nuanced understanding, where certain fundamental rights could be protected by the judiciary against legislative encroachment. The courts were given the authority to issue declarations of incompatibility, signaling a departure from Dicey's idea that courts could not question the validity of laws.

Devolution and Regional Implications:

The establishment of devolved legislatures in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland introduced another layer of complexity to the doctrine of parliamentary supremacy. While Westminster retained the power to legislate on any matter, devolved legislatures were given specific powers in areas like education and health. The Scotland Act 1998 and the Government of Wales Act 1998 created the Scottish Parliament and the Senedd (Welsh Parliament), respectively, acknowledging a form of shared legislative authority. This devolution of powers challenged the traditional unitary model of parliamentary supremacy, recognizing regional autonomy within the broader framework of the UK constitution.

Impact of Judicial Activism:

Judicial activism in the UK has played a role in shaping the contours of parliamentary supremacy. Courts have increasingly engaged in reviewing the legality and constitutionality of government actions. Notable cases, such as R (Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (2017), saw the judiciary asserting its role in scrutinizing executive decisions related to the Brexit process. While not directly challenging parliamentary supremacy, these decisions reflect an evolving relationship between the judiciary and the legislature, with courts acting as a check on potential abuses of power.

International Law and Parliamentary Supremacy:

The globalization of legal norms and the increasing significance of international law pose challenges to the traditional understanding of parliamentary supremacy. Treaties and international agreements can bind the UK, and conflicts may arise when domestic legislation clashes with international obligations. The tension between adhering to international norms and preserving parliamentary supremacy requires a delicate balance. The concept of "dualism," where international law does not automatically become part of domestic law, underscores the ongoing debate about the relationship between parliamentary supremacy and the UK's international commitments.


In conclusion, the doctrine of parliamentary supremacy has a deep-rooted historical evolution, from the struggles between the monarchy and Parliament in medieval England to the modern challenges posed by globalization and devolution. A.V. Dicey's formulation provided a foundational understanding, but constitutional developments, European integration, devolution, and judicial activism have introduced complexities and modifications. The dynamic nature of parliamentary supremacy reflects the adaptability of constitutional principles to changing political and legal landscapes. As the UK navigates post-Brexit realities and grapples with questions of international law and human rights, the doctrine of parliamentary supremacy continues to be a focal point of constitutional discourse, subject to ongoing reinterpretation and refinement. Examine the meaning and evolution of the doctrine of parliamentary supremacy.



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