This is an extract of our Parliamentary Sovereignty document, which we sell as part of our GDL Constitutional and Administrative Law Notes collection written by the top tier of Cambridge/Bpp/College Of Law students.
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Madison in the Federalist Papers argued some values were too important for ordinary politics
Procedural Entrenchment - procedurally protected law (e.g. a super majority required)
o Substantive Entrenchment - laws that cannot be repealed.
West Virginia on v Barnette US Supreme Court (1943)
o Justice Robert H. Jackson: forceful defence of free speech and constitutional rights generally as being placed "beyond the reach of majorities and officials."
US the the sovereign lawmaker is 'the people'
o The people are: 2/3 majority in Congress or 2/3 of States to propose and 3/4 of state legislatures to ratify
Sovereignty in the UK - four ideas:
o 1) The Crown (cf. James I)
o 2) Parliament (Parker - tripartite structure represents estates of the realm)
o 3) Common Law (Dr Bonham's Case (1610))
Coke LJ "When an Act of Parliament is against common right or reason, or repugnant, or impossible to be performed, the common law will control it"
o 4) Natural Law
Day v Savadge (1615) per Hobart CJ: "even an Act of
Parliament, made against natural equity, as to make a man judge in his own case, is void in itself"
Post 1688 there was a presumption that Parliament was sovereign lawmaker (Blackstone (mid C17) and Dicey (late C19))
o Civil War (1688) and Declaration of Right settled this dispute
Alleged James II had infringed upon liberties by levying taxes and suspending laws without Parliaments consent.
Implication people naturally possess these liberties.
o James was deposed and replaced by William of Orange and
A condition of doing this was accepting that sovereign legal power lay with Parliament.
Blackstone's Theory (1765)
o American revolutionary time - If [the legislature] will positively enact a thing to be done, the judges are not at liberty to reject it - Judges not above legislature
Bernard Bailyn argues Americans wanted to search for the seams along the fabric of
Two elements to his statement of constitutional parliamentary sovereignty.
1) The positive limb: Parliament can enact legislation on any subject matter whatsoever; 2) The negative limb: no court possesses the legal power to overturn or refuse to apply an Act of
There is no distinction in substantive terms between ordinary and fundamental laws enacted by Parliament
There is no distinction in procedural terms between ordinary and fundamental laws enacted by Parliament
City of London v Wood 
"an Act of Parliament can do no wrong, though it may do several things that look pretty odd".
The Enrolled Bill Rule (Wachope; Lee v Bude and Pickin)
o Edinburgh Railway v Wauchope (1842)
Landowner affected by a private Act of Parliament authorising compulsory purchase of land for the construction of a railway, tried to argue court should declare act void for failing to give sufficient notice.
Lord Campbell thought that judging the constitutional adequacy of proceedings in either the Commons or the
Lords was entirely beyond the court's powers.
o Lee v Bude and Torrington Railway (1871)
Wile J: "if an Act of Parliament has been obtained improperly it is for the legislature to correct it by repealing it: but so long as it exists as law, the Courts are bound to obey it"
o British Railways Board v Pickin.
Mr Pickin alleged that British Rail had steered a private
Bill through Parliament without giving the necessary notices to affected landowners.
Lord Reid explicitly denied that the courts had any power to question the legality of a Bill's passage through Parliament.
Enrolled bill Rule: once a bill is on the statute books it cannot be altered by anyone other than parliament.
The Doctrine of Implied Repeal
Vauxhall Estates Ltd v Liverpool Corpn  and Ellen
Street Estates Ltd v Minister of Health 
Acquisition of Land Act 1919 s.7
The landowners affected sought to have compensation assessed on the basis used in the 1919 Act.
Housing Acts of 1925 and 1930 made these provisions less generous.
Cannot procedurally entrench act - 1919 Act: "as inconsistent with this Act those provisions shall cease or shall not have effect"
Distinguished express and implied repeal 'functionalist' approaches to parliamentary sovereignty
Summarily rejected at appeal: the judges adopted instead a formalist approach that the courts unquestioningly obey the most recent Act of
o Ellen Street Estates Ltd v Minister of Health  1 KB
590 Scrutton LJ: "Parliament can alter an Act previously passed…by enacting a provision which is clearly inconsistent with the previous Act"
Thus Parliament can impliedly repeal any previous act - it is the latest statement that prevails in court, Parliament can bind itself.
Maugham LJ: "The Legislature cannot, according to our constitution, bind itself as to the form of subsequent legislation"
Relationship with International Law
Mortensen v Peters 
1889, the British Parliament passed the Herring
Fishery (Scotland) Act, made it an offence to catch herring in the Moray Firth without a licence.
Mortensen was a Danish captain of a Norwegian
Trawler breached these laws, argued that this breached international law which limited jurisdiction to three miles off coast.
Lord Salvesen: "In this court we have nothing to do with...whether an Act of the legislature is ultra vires …
For us, an Act of Parliament…is supreme and we are bound to give effect to its terms"
o Treaties are negotiated and formally entered into by the
Crown (or 'the government') through its prerogative powers,
not by Parliament.
Treaty signed by the British government can only have legal effect in Britain if it is incorporated into British law by an Act of Parliament.
o Cheney v Conn  1 WLR 242
Cheney claimed that some of his tax money was being used to build nuclear weapons, contrary to the principles of the Geneva Convention, a treaty the
British government had signed.
Argued illegal for Parliament to enact a statute that raised money so that such weapons could be built.
His case rested on sections of the Treaty that remained unincorporated.
Ungoed-Thomas J: "[W]hat the statute itself enacts cannot be unlawful, because what the statute says is itself the law, and the highest form of law that is known to this country.
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