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The Law of the Constitution

A. V. Dicey

Publication Year: 2012

A year after the publication of Dicey's Law of the Constitution, William Gladstone was reading it aloud in the House of Commons, citing it as authority. It remains, to this day, a starting point for the study of the English Constitution and comparative constitutional law.

Law of the Constitution elucidates the guiding principles of the modern constitution of England: the legislative sovereignty of Parliament, the rule of law, and the binding force of unwritten conventions. Dicey's goal was "to provide students with a manual which may impress these leading principles on their minds, and thus may enable them to study with benefit in Blackstone's Commentaries and other treatises of the like nature those legal topics which, taken together, make up the constitutional law of England."

Albert Venn Dicey (1835–1922) was Vinerian Professor of English Law at Oxford University from 1882 to 1909.

Published by: Liberty Fund

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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Publisher's Note

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pp. ix-11

A. V. Dicey's Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution was first published in 1885 in London by Macmillan and Co. New editions were issued by the same publisher in 1886, 1889, 1893, 1897, 1902, and 1908. In each of these editions, Dicey attempted to reflect such constitutional changes as he believed had...

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pp. xi-xxiii

Very few jurists ever put forward doctrines of constitutional law which become not merely classic but which remain alive as standards. A year after the publication of Albert Venn Dicey's Law of the Constitution in 1885, Gladstone already was reading it aloud in Parliament, citing it as an authority. Half a century later...

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Preface to the First Edition

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pp. xxv-xxvii

This book is (as its title imports) an introduction to the study of the law of the constitution; it does not pretend to be even a summary, much less a complete account of constitutional law. It deals only with two or three guiding principles which pervade the modern constitution of England. My object in publishing the work...

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Preface to the Eighth Edition

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pp. xxix-xxx

The body of this work is the eighth edition, or rather a reprint of the seventh edition, of the Law of the Constitution first published in 1885. It is, however, accompanied by a new Introduction. This Introduction is written with two objects. The first object is to trace and comment upon the way in which the main principles of our...

Analysis of Introduction

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pp. xxxi-xxxiii

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pp. xxxv-cxxi

The Law of the Constitution was first published in r885. The book was based on lectures delivered by me as Vinerian Professor of English Law. The lectures were given and the book written with the sole object of explaining and illustrating three leading characteristics in the existing constitution of England; they are now generally designated as the Sovereignty...

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The True Nature of Constitutional Law

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pp. cxxv-cxlviii

Burke writes in 1791: Great critics have taught us one essential rule .... It is this, that if ever we should find ourselves disposed not to admire those writers or artists, Livy and Virgil for instance, Raphael or Michael Angelo, whom all the learned had admired, not to follow our own fancies, but to study...

Part I: The Sovereignty of Parliament

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pp. 1-104

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Chapter 1: The Nature of Parliamentary Sovereignty

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pp. 3-35

The sovereignty of Parliament is (from a legal point of view) the dominant characteristic of our political institutions. My aim in this chapter is, in the first place, to explain the nature of Parliamentary sovereignty and to show that its existence is a legal fact, fully recognised by the law...

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Chapter II: Parliament and Non-Sovereign Law-Making Bodies

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pp. 36-72

In my last chapter I dwelt upon the nature of Parliamentary sovereignty; my object in this chapter is to illustrate the characteristics of such sovereignty by comparing the essential features of a sovereign Parliament like that of England with the traits which mark non-sovereign...

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Chapter III: Parliamentary Sovereignty and Federalism

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pp. 73-104

My present aim is to illustrate the nature of Parliamentary sovereignty as it exists in England, by a comparison with the system of government known as Federalism as it exists in several parts of the civilised world, and especially in the United States of...

Part II: The Rule of Law

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pp. 105-273

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Chapter IV: The Rule of Law: Its Nature and General Applications

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pp. 107-122

Two features have at all times since the Norman Conquest characterised the political institutions of England. The first of these features is the omnipotence or undisputed supremacy throughout the whole country of the central government. This authority of the state or the nation was during...

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Chapter V: The Right to Personal Freedom

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pp. 123-145

The seventh article of the Belgian constitution establishes in that country principles which have long prevailed in England. The terms thereof so curiously illustrate by way of contrast some marked features of English constitutional law as to be worth...

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Chapter VI: The Right to Freedom of Discussion

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pp. 146-168

The Declaration of the Rights of Man 1 and the French Constitution of 1791 proclaim freedom of discussion and the liberty of the press in terms which are still cited in text-books2 as embodying maxims of French...

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Chapter VII: The Right of Public Meeting

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pp. 169-179

The law of Belgium2 with regard to public meetings is contained in the nineteenth article of the constitution, which is probably intended in the main to reproduce the law of England, and runs as follows...

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Chapter VIII: Martial Law

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pp. 180-187

The rights already treated of in the foregoing chapter, as for example the right to personal freedom or the right to free expression of opinion, do not, it may be suggested, properly belong to the province of constitutional law at all, but form part either of private law strictly so called...

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Chapter IX: The Army

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pp. 188-199

The English army may for the purposes of this treatise be treated as consisting of the Standing Army or, in technical language, the Regular Forces2 and of the Territorial Force, 3 which, like the Militia,4 is a territorial army for the defence of the United Kingdom. Each of these forces has been rendered subordinate to the law of the land. My object...

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Chapter X: The Revenue

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pp. 200-209

As in treating of the army my aim was simply to point out what were the principles determining the relation of the armed forces of the country to the law on the land, so in treating of the revenue my aim is not to give even a sketch of the matters connected with the raising, the collection, and the expenditure of the national income, but simply to show that the collection and...

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Chapter XI: The Responsibility of Ministers

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pp. 210-212

Ministerial responsibility means two utterly different things. It means in ordinary parlance the responsibility of Ministers to Parliament, or, the liability of Ministers to lose their offices if they cannot retain the confidence of the House of Commons. This is a matter depending on the conventions of the constitution with which law has no direct...

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Chapter XII: Rule of Law Compared With Droit Administratif

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pp. 213-267

In many continental countries, and notably in France, there exists a scheme of administrative law2 - known to Frenchmen as droit administratif-which rests on ideas foreign to the fundamental assumptions of our English common law, and especially to what we have termed the rule of law. This opposition is specially apparent in...

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Chapter XIII: Relation Between Parliamentary Sovereignty and the Rule of Law

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pp. 268-273

The sovereignty of Parliament and the supremacy of the law of the land-the two principles which pervade the whole of the English constitution- may appear to stand in opposition to each other, or to be at best only counterbalancing forces. But this appearance is delusive; the sovereignty of Parliament, as contrasted with other forms...

Part III: The Connection Between the Law of the Constitution and the Conventions of the Constitution

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pp. 275-425

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Chapter XIV: Nature of Conventions of Constitutions

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pp. 277-291

In an earlier part of this work1 stress was laid upon the essential distinction between the "law of the constitution," which, consisting (as it does) of rules enforced or recognised by the Courts, makes up a body of "laws" in the proper sense of that term, and the "conventions of the constitution," which consisting (as they do) of customs, practices...

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Chapter XV: The Sanction by which the Conventions of the Constitution are Enforced

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pp. 292-315

What is the sanction by which obedience to the conventions of the constitution is at bottom enforced? This is by far the most perplexing of the speculative questions suggested by a study of constitutional law. Let us bear in mind the dictum of Paley, that it is often far harder to make men see the existence of a difficulty...


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pp. 317-421


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pp. 423-435

E-ISBN-13: 9781614877936
E-ISBN-10: 1614877939
Print-ISBN-13: 9780865970038

Page Count: 585
Publication Year: 2012