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The Courts and Parliament: Who Whom?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 January 2009

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All government is a conspiracy. Each governmental conspiracy has a constitution as its alibi. The constitution describes the way in which the political power of the society is concentrated and places the source of that concentration somewhere other than in the mere fact of power. Because of that dislocation, the constitution is the source not only of political power but also of political duty. The subjection of the organs of government to the constitution runs parallel to the subjection of the people governed to the constitutional power of the organs of government. The constitution justifies constitutional power and constitutional duty by making both of them derivatives from one and the same source.

The prior question of whence the constitution itself derives its authority is, for all everyday practical purposes, answered by the mere fact of the constitution. The constitution is self-proving in practice because it is used as the source of maxims affecting the behaviour of those who exercise physical force with actual impunity, or who control its exercise. To preach or to act against the constitution may or may not be permitted by the legal rules of the given society (themselves derived ultimately from the constitution), but it will in any event be ineffective whenever it comes into collision with power exercised, to the point of physical force, under authority derived from the constitution. A revolution occurs when the exercise of constitutional power, to the piont of physical force, ceases or is overridden by the exercise of unconstitutional power, if necessary by the application of greater physical force.

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Copyright © Cambridge Law Journal and Contributors 1979

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1 Particular problems of the location of sovereignty arise in Commonwealth countries. See Marshall, Parliamentary Sovereignty & the Commonwealth (1957); de Smith, The New Commonwealth & its Constitutions (1964), 109 et seq.

2 [1974] A.C. 765; [1974] 1 All E.R. 609.

3 3rd ed., Vol. 36, p. 376, para. 560.

4 At pp. 792, 622.

5 (1842) 1 Bell 252.

6 At p. 279.

7 At pp. 786, 617.

8 At pp. 788, 618.

9 At pp. 782, 614.

10 8 Co.Rep. 107a; 77 E.R. 638.

11 Plucknett, “Dr. Bonham's Case & Judicial Review,” 40 Harv.L.Rev. 30 (1926); Mcllwain, High Court of Parliament (1910), p. 286; Gough, Fundamental Law in English History (1955), p. 33; Vinogradoff, “The Yearbooks & Constitutional Law” (1917) 29 L.Q.R. 283; Holdsworth, H.E.L., II, 442 et seq. Cf. Wormuth, The Royal Prerogative 1603–49 (1939), p. 63: there was “abundant authority” for Coke's general proposition.

12 Plucknett, “Statutes & their Interpretation in the First Half of the 14th Century,” Cambridge Studies in Legal History (1922); Chrimes, English Constitutional Ideas in the 15th Century (1936), p. 289; Corwin, “The ‘Higher law’ Background of American Constitutional Law,” I and II, 42 Harv.L.Rev., 149, 365 (1928).

13 Mcllwain, op. cit., 163 et seq.; Pollard, The Evolution of Parliament (1926), 246 et seq.; Smith, De Republica Anglorum, ed. Alston (1906), ed.'s Intro, xxxiii.

14 8 Co.Rep. 118a; 77 E.R. 652.

15 Corwin, op. cit., pp. 370, 372. Cf. Jennings, The Law & the Constitution, 5th ed. (1959), App. III; Pollock, Expansion of the Common Law (1904), p. 22.

16 Thorne, “Dr. Bonham's Case” (1938) 54 L.Q.R. 543; Holdsworth, H.E.L., loc. cit. (note 11); cf. ibid., IV, 186; Gough, op. cit., p. 31; Knafla, Law & Politics in Jacobean England (1977), p. 149n.

17 Judson, The Crisis of the Constitution (1949), p. 101; Mcllwain, op. cit., p. 286; Gough, op. cit., p. 31.

18 77 E.R. 652; Knafla, op. cit., pp. 306–307; Mcllwain, op. cit., p. 294. On Coke's relationship with Ellesmere, see Knafla, op. cit., passim; Holdsworth, H.E.L., V, 236 et seq.

19 Cf. Yale, “Iudex in Propria Causa: an Historical Excursus” [1974] C.L.J. 80, 83.

20 Bacon, Works, ed. Spedding, XIII, 89.

21 Coke may have taken the phrase from a petition against a statute said to be “contre Ley et contre reson”: R.R.ii.41 (4 Ed. III no. 52). See Vinogradoff, op. cit. (note 11).

22 Corwin, op. cit., 375 et seq.; Gough, op. cit., 49; Mcllwain, op. cit., 271, 281–3, 329.

23 R. v. Jordan [1967]Google Scholar Crim.L.Rev. 483; Thakrar v. Home Sec. [1974] 2 All E.R. 261Google Scholar, C.A.; R. v. Home Sec., ex p. Bhajan Singh [1975] 2 All E.R. 1081.Google Scholar

24 British Coal Corp. v. King [1935]Google Scholar A.C. 500, P.C.; MacCormick v. Lord Advocate, 1953Google Scholar S.C. 396; Blackburn v. Att.-Gen. [1971] 1 W.L.R. 1037.Google Scholar

25 Mortensen v. Peters, 1906 14 S.L.T. 227Google Scholar; Chung Chi Cheung v. R. [1939]Google Scholar A.C. 160, P.C; Cheney v. Conn [1968] 1 W.L.R. 242Google Scholar; Trendtex Trading Corp. v.Central Bank of Nigeria [1977] 1 Q.B. 529Google Scholar and cases there considered.

26 Ellen St. Estates v. Min. of Health [1934] 1 K.B. 590Google Scholar, C.A.; Hall v. Hall (1944) 88 S.J. 383Google Scholar; Pickin v. B.R.B. [1974]Google Scholar A.C. 765.

27 (1871) L.R. 6 C.P. 576.

28 “The law is what the judges say it is”: Devlin, Samples of Lawmaking (1962), p. 2.

29 On presumptions, see Maxwell, Interpretation of Statutes, 12th ed. (1969), Chaps. 7 and 8; Cross, Statutory Interpretation (1976), Chap. VII.

30 Gierke, Political Theories of the Middle Age, trans. Maitland (1900), III; Wilks, Problem of Sovereignty in the Later Middle Ages (1963), Pt. I; Ullmann, Short History of the Papacy in the Middle Ages (1972), Chap. 10.

31 Statutes of the Realm, IV, 350; Stephenson & Marcham, Sources of English Constitutional History (1937), p. 344.

32 William & Mary were invited to the thrones of England, France and Ireland.

33 Parliament Roll of 1399; Stephenson & Marcham, p. 252.

34 Hewart, The New Despotism (1929); Denning, Freedom under the Law (1949), Scarman, English Law—the New Dimension (1974), Hailsham, Elective Dictator-ship (1976).

35 Act of Succession, 1485; Statutes of the Realm, II, 499; Stephenson & Marcham, p. 298.

36 Stanford, An Exposition of the King's Prerogative (1569), quoted in Elton, The Tudor Constitution (1960), p. 18. Cf. Coke, I Institutes 2, v; Selden, Table Talk, s.v. Prerogative (prerogative is “the King's Law”); Wormuth, op. cit. (note 11).

37 Smith, De Republica Anglorum (1565), quoted in Elton, op. cit., p. 19.

38 “Parliament represents the whole body of the kingdom”: Y.B. 39 Ed. III Pasch. 7, per Thorpe, C.J. “The great corporation or body politick of the kingdom”Google Scholar (Coke, IV Institutes 2); Chrimes, op. cit. (note 12), pp. 76–80; Gierke, op. cit. (note 30), pp. 61–67; Smith, De Republica Anglorum, ed. Alston (1906), p. 49. Such an idea is a denal of another medieval monarchical conception, perpetuated by Louis XIV, that the sovereign in person embodies the realm: cf. Wilks, op. cit. (note 30), p. 41.

39 Coke, IV Institutes, Preface; Mcllwain, op. cit., Chap. III; Holdsworth, H.E.L., IV, 182 et seq.; Pollard, op. cit. (note 13), Chap. II.

40 Holinshed, II, 824–826; Elton, op. cit., p. 267.

41 Ordinance of 1311; Stephenson & Marcham, p. 195.

42 Record of Parliament (1404); ibid., p. 259.

43 (1587) ibid., p. 372.

44 (1593) ibid., p. 372.

45 12 Co.Rep. 64; 77 E.R. 1342.

46 12 Co.Rep. 74; 77 E.R. 1352.

47 Howell, Stale Trials, III, 1090, 1098, 1101.

48 ibid., 1226, 1235.

49 E.g., the King's message and the Apology of the Commons (1604), the Commons' Petition of Grievances to the King (1610), the Commons' Protestation (1621) and the Kings' letters to the Commons (1621 and 1626), the Petition of Right (1628) and the proceedings in the Commons on the Petition in the presence of the King.

50 Kenyon, The Stuart Constitution (1969), p. 211.

51 ibid., p. 214.

52 Firth & Rait, Acts & Ordinances, I, 1253; Stephenson & Marcham, p. 516.

53 (1649) Rushworth, Historical Collections, VII, 1403; Stephenson & Marcham, p. 517.

54 Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War, ed. 1893 III, 392; Kenyon, op cit., p. 308.

55 Firth & Rait, Acts & Ordinances, II, 122; Stephenson & Marcham, p. 523

56 ibid., pp. 813, 525.

57 Macaulay, History of England from the Accession of James II, ed. Firth (1914), III, 1296 et seq. Nenner, By Color of Law: Legal Culture & Constitutional Politics in England 1660–1689 (1977), 173 et seq.

58 Commons Journal. 28 January 1689, 14.

59 Macaulay, op. cit., III, 1300.

60 Statutes of the Realm, VI, 142; Williams, The Eighteenth Century Constitution (1970), 26.

61 Cf. Hill, The Century of Revolution 1603–1714, Sphere ed. (1969), p. 238; Carter, “The Revolution & the Constitution,” in Holmes, ed., Britian after the Glorious Revolution (1969), p. 42; Kemp, King & Commons 1660–1832 (1957), p. 8; Holdsworth, H.E.L., VI, 241.

62 The Coronation Oath was altered to requre government according to “the statutes in parliament agreed on.” On the significance of the change, see Maitland, Constitutional History of England (1908, ed. Fisher 1968), p. 286. On the question of whether William assented to the Declaration, see the sources cited by Nenner, op. cit., p. 199n.

63 Appeal from the Old to the New Whigs (1791), Works (Bohn), III, 43.

64 Kenyon, Revolution Principles—the Politics of Party 1689–1720 (1977), p. 134.

65 The Tryal of Dr. Henry Sacheverell (1710), p. 22; Burke, Works (Bohn), III, 46; Kenyon, op. cit., p. 134. The Articles of Impeachment are set out as App. A. in Holmes, The Trial of Dr. Sacheverell (1973).

66 Speech on the Army Estimates (1790): Works (Bohn), III, 279.

67 Op. cit. (note 57). III, 1306, 1309, 1310.

68 Was the Revolution really necessary to prevent royal backsliding? Was it a victory for law or legal illusions? Was it a change of things or of men? Was it the victory of ideas or of a class? See Feiling, A History of the Tory Party 1640–1714 (1924); Gooch, English Democratic Ideas in the Seventeenth Century (1929); Trevelyan, The English Revolution 1688–1689 (1938); Pinckham, William III and the Respectable Revolution (1954); Ogg, England in the Reigns of James II and William III (1955); Straka (ed.), The Revoluton of 1688, Whig Triumph or Palace Revolution? (1963); Plumb, The Growth of Political Stability in England 1675–1725 (1967); Jones, The Revolution of 1688 in England (1972); Nenner, op. cit. (note 57).

69 Pinckham, op. cit., p. 191. Cf. Trevelyan, op. cit., p. 71: “It was the triumph of common law and lawyers over the King, who had tried to put Prerogative above the law” (a view described by Nenner, at p. 62, as “Whiggish and wrong”).

70 Plumb, op. cit., p. 63. Cf. Horwitz, Parliament, Policy & Politics in the Reign of William III (1977), pp. 85 et seq.

71 Plumb, op. cit., p. 65.

72 Hill, op. cit., p. 240. Cf. Burnet preaching before William of Orange in December 1688: “We have before us a work that seems to our selves a Dream, and that will appear to posterity a Fiction”: quoted by Nenner, op. cit., p. xix, who speaks of “the myth of 1688.”

73 Ullmann, Medieval Political Thought (1965), p. 31; Short History of the Papacy in the Middle Ages (1972), p. 36Google Scholar; Growth of Papal Government in the Middle Ages, 2nd ed. (1962)Google Scholar, Chaps. XII and XIII.

74 Maine, Ancient Law (1865), Chap. 5; Pound, Interpretations of Legal History (1923), pp. 53 et seq. Gierke, op. cit. (note 30), p. 88.

75 Wendover, Flores Historiarum (Chronica), p. 241; quoted in Jones, King John & Magna Carta (1971), p. 124.

76 Figgis, From Gerson to Grotius 1414–1625 (1907), pp. 37, 69 et seq.; Divine Right of Kings (1927), especally pp. 45Google Scholaret seq. and 237 et seq.; Ullmann, op. cit. (1965), especially Chap. 5, and op. cit. (1972), p. 223; Gierke, op. cit., p. 36.

77 Roper, Life of More, p. 87; Chambers, Thomas More (1935), p. 338.

78 Figgis, op. cit. (1907), p. 126.

79 Trans. Tooley (1960). The following quotations are from Chaps. I and VIII of Book I.

80 de Jouvenel, Sovereignty, an Inquiry into the Political Good, trans. Huntington (1957), p. 183.

81 Leviathan, ed. Oakeshott (1955), Chap. XVIII, p. 113.

82 Cf. Hart, Concept of Law (1961), p. 55.

83 Hobbes, op. cit., Chap. XXX, p. 227.

84 ibid., Chap. XV, p. 104.

85 Austin, Province of Jurisprudence Determined (1832, ed. Hart 1955), pp. 276n.–288n.

86 Locke, Two Treatises of Government, ed. Laslett (1960), editor's Introduction, III; Dunn, Political Thought of John Locke (1969) p. 77. Figgis, op. cit. (1927), p. 242 describes Locke's treatises as an attack on the idea of sovereignty: “it is expressly directed against the notion that there is any sovereign power in the State, whilst realising that the legislature is supreme.”

87 Vile, Constitutionalism & the Separation of Powers (1967), Chaps. III and V.

88 Commentaries, 15th ed. (1809), I, 153.

89 ibid., I, 268.

90 Dicey, Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (1885, 10th ed. E. C. S. Wade 1959), Part II. Cf. Jennings, The Law & the Constitution, 5th ed. (1959), App. II. On the problem of reconciling Blackstone's views on parliamentary sovereignty and on division of powers, see Holdsworth, Some Lessons from our Legal History (1928), p. 130; Jones (ed.), The Sovereignty of the Law (1973), editor's Introduction, p. xliii.

91 Bowring, Autobiographical Recollections (1877), quoted in Halévy, Growth of Philosophical Radicalism, trans. Morris (1928), p. 174.

92 Coke, II Institutes, p. 179.

93 Bowring, op. cit., quoted in Halëvy, op. cit., p. 77.

94 Of Laws in General: Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham, ed. Hart (1970), pp. 18 et Seq.

95 See Pollock, History of the Science of Politics (1911), p. 104.

96 Maine, Early History of Institutions (1875), Lee. XII; Sidgwick, Elements of Politics (1891); Bryce, Studies in History and Jurisprudence (1901), X; Pollock, op. cit., Pt. IV; Stephen, The English Utilitarians (1912), III, Chap. 5; Hart, Concept of Law (1961), Chaps. II–IV. And see Merriam, History of the Theory of Sovereignty since Rousseau (1900), Chap. VII; , Rees, “The Theory of Sovereignty Restated,” 59 Mind (1950), p. 495.Google Scholar

97 Pollock, op. cit., p. 112.

98 “Austin's manner is so repulsive (as even his admirers allow) that it is hard to be quite just to his matter.” ibid., 109n.

99 Op. cit. (note 85), especially Lec. VI.

1 Dicey, op. cit., p. 71.

2 ibid., pp. 39–40.

3 ibid, pp. 73–74.

4 They are discussed in Mcllwain, High Court of Parliament (1910), pp. 124 et seq.

5 “In this book in effect appeareth the whole frame of the ancient common laws of this realm … This grave and learned author will show as in this Mirror the great antiquity of the said courts of common law, and particularly of the High Court of Parliament ever since the time of King Arthur [sic] who reigned about the year of our Lord 516.” (9 Co.Rep., Preface.) “It is a dangerous thing to alter or shake any of the fundamental rules of the common law, which in truth are the main pillars and supporters of the fabrick of the commonwealth.” (II Institutes, p. 71.) On Coke's view of the law, see Holdsworth, H.E.L., V, 428, 454, 475, 491, 493.

6 Smith, De Republica Anglorum, ed. Alston (1906), ed.'s Intro., p. xxxiii.

7 “Blackstone's View on the Omnipotence of Parliament” (1863–70), III Juridical Society Papers, 305.

8 “Hobbes and Hale on law, legislaton & the sovereign” [1972B] C.L.J. 121. See also Holdsworth, op. cit. (note 90), pp. 127 et seq. Mcllwain, op. cit., pp. 162 et seq.

9 Holdsworth, H.E.L., V, 482 et seq., 499: VI, 203 et seq.

10 Commentaries, 15th ed. (1809), I, 160 (in the passage used by Dicey).

11 See Holdsworth, op. cit. (note 90), p. 130; Jones, op. cit. (note 90).

12 Dicey, op. cit., p. 72.

13 Wade, “The Basis of Legal Sovereignty” [1955] C.L.J. 172.

14 Ross, On Law and Justice (1958), p. 81.

15 Hart, Concept of Law (1961), p. 146.

16 Surveyed in Gough, Fundamental Law in English Constitutional History (1955) whose conclusions are, however, different from those of the present study.

17 E.g., in the Waverley Annals for 1214—“[John's barons] demanding from him the laws of St. Edward and the liberties granted by later kings:” quoted in Jones, King John & Magna Carta (1971), p. 130.

18 Burke, Reflections on the Revoluton in France: Works (Bohn), II, 368.

19 Concept of Law, p. 55.

20 (1871) L.R. 6 C.P. 576.

21 Hailsham, Elective Dictatorship (1976).

22 On the demystification of the status of the Executive, see Allott, “The Courts & the Executve: Four House of Lords Decisions” [1977] C.L.J. 255.

23 These conclusions, which will be elaborated in a further study, appear to go in the direction of the “new view of sovereignty,” identified as such in Heuston, Essays in Constitutional Law (1961), Chap. 1, and Marshall, Constitutional Theory (1971), Chap. III. But they go further than that view, and are essentially a new-old view of the constitution as a whole. They are closest to the views of Anstey, op. cit. (note 7), and Dixon, “The Law and the Constitution” (1935) 51 L.Q.R. 590, who was following the views of Hearn, The Government of England (1867), a work referred to with appreciaton by Dicey but which his own work completely eclipsed. See also Dixon, “The Common Law as an Ultimate Constitutional Foundation” (1957) 31 A.L.J. 240. On the growing need for a new view of the sovereignty of Parliament, see Williams, “The Constitution of the United Kingdom [1972] C.L.J. 266, and Winterton, “The British Grundnorm: Parliamentary Supremacy Re-examined” (1976) 92 L.Q.R. 591.

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