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Encyclopedia > Constitutional convention (political custom)

A constitutional convention is an informal and uncodified procedural agreement that is followed by the institutions of a state. In some states, notably those Commonwealth of Nations states which follow the Westminster system and whose political systems are derived from British constitutional law, most of the functions of government are guided by constitutional convention rather than by a formal written constitution. In these states, the actual distribution of power may be markedly different from those which are described in the formal constitutional documents. In particular, the formal constitution often confers wide discretionary powers to the head of state which in practice are used only on the advice of the head of government. The Commonwealth of Nations (CN), usually known as the Commonwealth, is a voluntary association of 53 independent sovereign states, the majority of which are former colonies of the United Kingdom. ... The Westminster system is a democratic system of government modelled after that of the United Kingdom system, as used in the Palace of Westminster, the location of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged into Constitution of the United Kingdom. ... Queen Elizabeth II, is the Head of State of 16 countries including: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Jamaica, New Zealand and the Bahamas, as well as crown colonies and overseas territories of the United Kingdom. ... The Head of Government is the chief officer of the executive branch of a government, often presiding over a cabinet. ...

Some constitutional conventions operate separate from or alongside written constitutions. Others, notably in Britain, which has much of its constitution unwritten, have a form of constitutional status. Many old conventions have been replaced or superseded by laws.



Constitutional conventions generally arise from precedent. For example, the constitutional convention that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom must govern with a majority in Parliament derived from the very unsuccessful attempt of Robert Peel to govern without one in the mid 19th century. The Prime Minister is in practice the most important political office in the United Kingdom. ... This article is about the British Prime Minister. ... Alternative meaning: Nineteenth Century (periodical) (18th century — 19th century — 20th century — more centuries) As a means of recording the passage of time, the 19th century was that century which lasted from 1801-1900 in the sense of the Gregorian calendar. ...

Constitutional conventions differ from formal constitutional amendments in that they are created over time, and it may be difficult or impossible to identify when a constitutional convention has come into effect or sometimes even what the constitutional conventions are. To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section can be improved by converting lengthy lists to text. ...


Constitutional conventions are not obligatory, but are in effect procedural agreements to which all sides adhere. Some conventions evolve or change over time; for example, before 1918 the British cabinet requested a parliamentary dissolution from the monarch, with the Prime Minister conveying the request. Since 1918, prime ministers on their own initiative request dissolutions, and need not consult members of the cabinet. However conventions are rarely ever broken. Unless there is general agreement on the breach, the person who breaches a convention is often heavily criticised, on occasions leading to a loss of respect or popular support. It is often said that "conventions are not worth the paper they are not written on", i.e., they are unenforceable in law because they are not written down. Whatever enforceability they have comes from history, tradition, symbolism and their cross-party support. 1918 (MCMXVIII) was a common year starting on Tuesday of the Gregorian calendar (see link for calendar) or a common year starting on Wednesday of the Julian calendar. ... A cabinet is a body of high-ranking members of government, typically representing the executive branch. ...

Constitutional Conventions in the United Kingdom

While Britain does not have a written constitution that is a single document, the collection of legal instruments that have developed into a body of law known as constitutional law has existed for hundreds of years. An example of such a convention in Great Britain is the requirement that all money bills must originate in the House of Commons. Such conventions also exist in other Commonwealth parliamentary democracies such as Canada under the British North America Act of 1867 (also known as the Canadian Constitution) which was an act of the British Parliament which created the nascent Canadian Parliament even though by convention it was agreed to by the Fathers of Confederation, who were representatives of the various colonies of British North America. So while it had been signed by these individuals on 29 March 1867, it did not enter into force of law until it was signed by the British monarch as an Act of Parliament. Legal instrument is a legal term of art that is used for any written legal document such as a certificate, a deed, a will, an Act of Parliament or a law passed by a competent legislative body in municipal (domestic) or international law. ... Money bills is a term used by the Parliament of India to refer to legislation bills which exclusively contain provisions for imposition and abolition of taxes, for uses such as appropriation of money out of the Consolidated Fund, etc. ... The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. ... The Commonwealth of Nations (CN), usually known as the Commonwealth, is a voluntary association of 53 independent sovereign states, the majority of which are former colonies of the United Kingdom. ... States currently utilizing parliamentary systems are denoted in red and orange—the former being constitutional monarchies where authority is vested in a parliament, and the latter being parliamentary republics whose parliaments are effectively supreme over a separate head of state. ... The British North America Acts 1867–1975 are a series of Acts of the British Parliament dealing with the government of Canada. ... We dont have an article called Canadian-confederation Start this article Search for Canadian-confederation in. ... British North America was an informal term first used in 1783, but uncommon before the Report on the Affairs of British North America (1839), called the Durham Report. ... March 29 is the 88th day of the year in the Gregorian Calendar (89th in leap years). ... 1867 (MDCCCLXVII) was a common year starting on Tuesday (see link for calendar). ... In Westminster System parliaments, an Act of Parliament is a part of the law passed by the Parliament. ...

As part of this unwritten British constitution, constitutional conventions of British constitutional law play a key role. They are rules that are observed by the various constituted parts though they are not written in any document having legal authority; there are often underlying enforcing principles that are themselves not formal and codified. None the less it is very unlikely that there would be a departure of such conventions without good reason, even if an underlying enforcing principle has been overtaken by history, as these conventions also acquire the force of custom. For instance, the convention about money bills mentioned above was once enforced by the catch-22 that a government could not apply enough force to get the taxes it needed without cooperation, unless it first had even more funds to pay for that force; it is now merely customary, but it underlay much of British constitutional development in the 17th century. See royal prerogative. Catch-22 is a term, inspired by Joseph Hellers novel Catch-22, describing a general situation in which an individual has to accomplish two actions which are mutually dependent on the other action being completed first. ... The Royal Prerogative is a body of customary authority, privilege, and immunity, recognised in common law jurisdictions possessing a monarchy as belonging to the Crown alone. ...

Examples of constitutional conventions


  • The Senate will not deny supply to the government (broken in 1975. The Senate argued that its breaking of convention was in response to alleged breaking of numerous conventions by then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. Whitlam did not agree.) See Australian constitutional crisis of 1975.
  • A Loss of Supply requires either the resignation of the Prime Minister or a parliamentary dissolution (broken in 1975 by Whitlam, who argued that the Senate's breach of convention in delaying supply indefinitely did not require a dissolution or resignation. The result was a stalemate and the intervention of the Governor-General mentioned below. Each party to the dispute blamed someone else for breaching a convention, requiring their own breaching of another one in response.)

Edward Gough Whitlam AC QC (born 11 July 1916), known as Gough Whitlam (, pronounced Goff), Australian politician and 21st Prime Minister of Australia. ... The secretary of the Governor-General, David Smith, announcing the dissolution of Parliament on November 11th, 1975. ... Loss of Supply occurs where a government in a parliamentary democracy is by parliamentary vote denied a supply of treasury or exchequer funds, by whichever house or houses of parliament is constitutionally entitled to grant and deny supply. ...

Commonwealth Realms

  • The Governor-General is appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister of the day, is a resident of the country he will represent, and can be dismissed immediately on the advice of the Prime Minister (exceptions: Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, where the Governor-General is elected by Parliament and then formally appointed by the Queen).
  • Governors-General do not participate in the political process unless there is an extreme circumstance that merits doing so (the last case being in Australia in 1975, when Sir John Kerr controversially dismissed the Prime Minister over the stalemate mentioned above).
  • Governors-general do not make partisan speeches or state partisan opinions. This convention was broken in 1975 by Sir Colin Hannah, the Governor of Queensland, who called for the defeat of the Whitlam Government. The Queen, on Whitlam's advice, revoked Hannah's dormant commission to act as Administrator of the Commonwealth and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office later refused to transmit the Premier of Queensland's advice for the Queen to appoint Hannah to a second term as governor.
  • All executive decisions are taken by a formal meeting of the Executive Council, i.e. the Governor-General-in-Council (allegedly broken in the mid 1970s, but followed since)
  • The Queen does not over-rule the decisions of the Governor-General or Prime Minister

The Commonwealth Realms, shown in pink A Commonwealth Realm is any one of the 16 sovereign states of the Commonwealth of Nations that separately recognise Queen Elizabeth II as their monarch. ... Governor-General (or Governor General) is a term used both historically and currently to designate the appointed representative of a head of state or their government for a particular territory, historically in a colonial context, but no longer necessarily in that form. ... The Rt Hon. ... List of Governors of Queensland See Governors of the Australian states for a description and history of the office of Governor. ... Edward Gough Whitlam (born 11 July 1916), Australian politician and 21st Prime Minister of Australia, was the only Australian Prime Minister to be dismissed by the Governor-General. ... Please wikify (format) this article or section as suggested in the Guide to layout and the Manual of Style. ... An Administrator (Administrator of the Government, Officer Administering the Government) in some countries in the Commonwealth is a person who fulfils a role similar to that of a Governor or a Governor-General. ... The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Whitehall, seen from St. ... List of Premiers of Queensland Before the 1890s there was no formal party system in Queensland. ...


  • If the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister are not from the same party, foreign affairs are conducted by the President.
  • If the president of the National Assembly, the president of the Senate or 60 deputies or 60 senators claim that a just-voted statute is unconstitutional, the President of the Republic does not sign the law and instead waits for a petition to be sent to the Constitutional Council.
  • When the death penalty was in effect, sentenced prisoners were not executed until they had asked the President of the Republic to grant clemency and the president had declined to do so, unless they did not seek clemency.

The President of France, known officially as the President of the Republic (Président de la République in French), is Frances elected Head of State. ... The Prime Minister of France (Premier ministre de la France) is the functional head of the Cabinet of France. ... The Palais Bourbon, front The French National Assembly (French: Assemblée nationale) is one of the two houses of the bicameral Parliament of France under the Fifth Republic. ... The Senate amphitheater in the Luxembourg Palace The Senate (in French :le Sénat) is the upper house of the Parliament of France. ... The Statute of Grand Duchy of Lithuania A statute is a formal, written law of a country or state, written and enacted by its legislative authority, perhaps to then be ratified by the highest executive in the government, and finally published. ... A republican guard giving directions to visitors at the front entrance of the Constitutional Council The Constitutional Council (Conseil Constitutionnel) was established by the Constitution of the Fifth Republic on 4 October 1958. ... Capital punishment, or the death penalty, is the execution of a convicted criminal by the state as punishment for crimes known as capital crimes or capital offences. ... A pardon is the forgiveness of a crime and the penalty associated with it. ...

United Kingdom

  • Under the "Ponsonby Rule" The text of an international treaty is laid before Parliament at least 21 days before ratification, satisfying the requirement that Parliament be informed of Ministers' intentions relating to foreign affairs.
  • The monarch enters into treaties via perogative, however these are not enforcable until ratified.
  • The monarch must accept and act on the advice of the Government (his or her Ministers), who are responsible to Parliament for that advice; the monarch cannot ignore that advice, excepting only to exercise Reserve powers.
  • The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is the leader of the party (or coalition of parties) with an absolute majority of seats in the House of Commons and therefore most likely to command the support of the House of Commons.
  • The Prime Minister alone advises the monarch on a dissolution of Parliament (since 1918).
  • The monarch will grant a dissolution if requested (since 1832. The Lascelles Principles in 1951 informally outlined the principles and issues that might lead to a refusal of a dissolution.)
  • The monarch grants the Royal Assent to all legislation — sometimes characterised as all legislation passed in good faith, although this appears to be a distinction without a difference(since the early 1700s. Previously monarchs did refuse or withhold the Royal Assent.)
  • The Prime Minister should be a member of either House of Parliament (1700s - 1963).
    • In 1963 it was amended to the effect that no Prime Minister should come from the House of Lords. When the last Prime Minister peer, the Earl of Home, took office he renounced his peerage, and as Sir Alec Douglas-Home became an MP.
  • All cabinet members must be members of the Privy Council.
  • The House of Lords should not reject a budget passed by the House of Commons. This was broken controversially in 1909 by the House of Lords, which argued that the Convention was linked to another Convention that the Commons would not introduce a Bill that "attacked" peers and their wealth. The Lords claimed that the Commons broke this Convention in Chancellor of the Exchequer David Lloyd George's budget, justifying the Lords' rejection of the budget. The Commons disputed the existence of a linked convention. As a consequence, the Lords' powers over budgets was greatly lessened by the Parliament Act 1911.
  • During a General Election, no major party shall put up an opponent against a Speaker seeking re-election.
  • The Westminster Parliament will not legislate on a devolved matter without the consent of the Scottish Parliament (since 1999, the Sewel convention, later renamed to Legislative Consent Motions).
  • The House of Lords shall not veto legislation from the House of Commons that was a part of the government's manifesto (the Salisbury Convention).

A reserve power is a power that may be exercised by the head of state of a country in certain exceptional circumstances. ... The Prime Minister is in practice the most important political office in the United Kingdom. ... A political party is an organization that seeks to attain political power within a government, usually by participating in electoral campaigns. ... The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. ... 1832 was a leap year starting on Sunday (see link for calendar). ... The Lascelles Principles are a constitutional convention in the United Kingdom describing the circumstances under which a monarch may refuse a request from a Prime Minister for the dissolution of Parliament. ... // The granting of Royal Assent is the formal method by which a constitutional monarch completes the legislative process of lawmaking by formally assenting to an Act of Parliament. ... Events and trends The Bonneville Slide blocks the Columbia River near the site of present-day Cascade Locks, Oregon with a land bridge 200 feet (60 m) high. ... 1963 (MCMLXIII) was a common year starting on Tuesday (the link is to a full 1963 calendar). ... Alexander Frederick Douglas-Home, Baron Home of the Hirsel, KT,1 PC (July 2, 1903 – October 9, 1995), 14th Earl of Home from 1951 to 1963, was a British politician, and served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for a year from October, 1963 until October, 1964. ... Her Majestys Most Honourable Privy Council is a body of advisors to the British Sovereign. ... 1909 (MCMIX) was a common year starting on Friday (see link for calendar). ... The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the title held by the British cabinet minister responsible for all financial matters. ... David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd George of Dwyfor, OM, PC (17 January 1863 – 26 March 1945) was a British statesman who guided Britain and the Commonwealth of Nations through World War I and the postwar settlement as the Liberal Party Prime Minister, 1916-1922. ... The Palace of Westminster, also known as the Houses of Parliament. ... 1911 (MCMXI) was a common year starting on Sunday (click on link for calendar). ... The United Kingdom has five distinct types of elections: general, local, regional, European and mayoral. ... In the United Kingdom, the Speaker of the House of Commons is the presiding officer of the House of Commons, and is seen historically as the First Commoner of the Land. ... The Scottish Parliaments logo in English and Gaelic. ... 1999 (MCMXCIX) was a common year starting on Friday, and was designated the International Year of Older Persons by the United Nations. ... A Sewel motion is a motion passed by the Scottish Parliament, in which it requests the Parliament of the United Kingdom, or Westminster to pass legislation on a topic extending to Scotland. ... A Legislative Consent Motion (formerly known as a Sewel motion) is a parliamentary motion passed by the Scottish Parliament, in which it agrees that the Parliament of the United Kingdom may pass legislation on a devolved issue extending to Scotland, over which the Scottish Parliament has regular legislative authority. ... The Salisbury Convention is a constitutional convention in the United Kingdom that means that the House of Lords will not oppose any government legislation promised by its election manifesto. ...


The following constitutional conventions are part of the political culture of Switzerland. They hold true at the federal level and mostly so at the cantonal and communal level. Mostly, they aim to reconcile the democratic principle of majority rule with the need to achieve consensus in a nation that is much more heterogeneous in many respects than other nation-states. Majoritarianism (often also called majority rule) is a political philosophy or agenda which asserts that a majority (sometimes categorized by religion, language or some other identifying factor) of the population is entitled to a certain degree of primacy in society, and has the right to make decisions that affect the...

  • The government is a body of equals composed in political proportion to the weight of the various factions in Parliament; this creates a permanent grand coalition.
  • Members of a collective body, including the federal government, observe collegiality at all times, that is, they do not publicly criticise one another. They also publicly support all decisions of the collective, even against their own opinion or that of their political party. In the eye of many observers, this convention has become rather strained at the federal level, at least after the 2003 elections to the Swiss Federal Council.
  • The presidency of a collective body, particularly a government, rotates yearly; the president is a primus inter pares.

States currently utilizing parliamentary systems are denoted in red and orange—the former being constitutional monarchies where authority is vested in a parliament, and the latter being parliamentary republics whose parliaments are effectively supreme over a separate head of state. ... A grand coalition is a coalition government in a parliamentary system where political parties representing a vast majority of the parliament unite in a coalition. ... The Swiss Federal Council (German: Schweizerischer Bundesrat, French: Conseil fédéral suisse, Italian: Consiglio federale svizzero, Romansh: Cussegl federal svizzer) is the seven-member executive council which constitutes the government as well as the head of state of Switzerland. ... Collegiality is the relationship between colleagues. ... 2003 (MMIII) was a common year starting on Wednesday of the Gregorian calendar. ... The Swiss Federal Council (German: Schweizerischer Bundesrat, French: Conseil fédéral suisse, Italian: Consiglio federale svizzero, Romansh: Cussegl federal svizzer) is the seven-member executive council which constitutes the government as well as the head of state of Switzerland. ... Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States (1861-1865) The majority of this article is about heads of states. ... First among equals is a phrase which indicates that a person is the most senior of a group of people sharing the same rank or office. ...

See also

  Results from FactBites:
Constitution-Making: The Pre-eminently Political Act (4810 words)
Constitutional architects and designers can borrow a mechanism here or there but, in the last analysis, those mechanisms must be integrated in a manner that is true to the spirit of the civil society for which the constitution is designed.
Constitutions as covenants or compacts or extensions thereof, can either be changed in their entirety or can involve frequent amendment, because issues of constitutional choice become part of the coin of the realm, as it were, and publics constituted as partnerships see themselves as empowered to participate in constitutional design in a relatively direct way.
Constitutional choice involves utilizing appropriate models that recognize the importance of institutions in the lives of humans, the significance of history and culture in shaping those institutions and rendering particular institutions effective or ineffective, and identifying the empirical and behavioral dimensions of the constitutional process in each case.
  More results at FactBites »



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