A constitution is a body of rules that defines and regulates a country, and whose primary objective is to serve as a base for power in a state. There are several types of constitutions that you should know.
What is a constitution? It is the supreme law of a state that lays down rules regulating the organization, powers, and functions of government. It defines the basic features of the state and the relationship between the state and its citizens.
It can also be defined as:
- The fundamental and organic laws and principles of a country or state that create a system of government and provide a basis against which the validity of all other laws is determined. [Webster’s New World Law Dictionary (2006:92]
- The fundamental and organic law of a nation or state that establishes the institutions and apparatus of government, defines the scope of governmental sovereign powers, and guarantees individual civil rights and civil liberties. [Black’s Law Dictionary (2009:353) 9th Ed.]
Types of constitution
How many types of constitution are there? Here is a detailed classification of constitutions:
1. Written and unwritten
This classification is based on the constitution's physical form.
What is a written constitution?
It is a single, formal document that describes the arrangement of governance in a country.
It is framed systematically, usually by a representative body called the constituent assembly, after many deliberations and discussions.
What is an unwritten constitution?
An unwritten constitution is derived from several sources that are part written and unwritten, such as conventions, traditions, customs, Acts of parliament, and common law.
It is flexible and evolves over some time.
What are the differences between written and unwritten constitutions?
2. Flexible and rigid
This classification is based on the amendment procedure.
What is a flexible constitution?
A flexible or elastic constitution can be easily amended. For this type, constitutional law can be amended in the same way as ordinary law.
Some advantages of a flexible constitution include:
- Its ability to change quickly in accordance with changes in the social and political environment of the society and the state.
- Helpful in meeting emergencies since it can be easily amended.
- It is dynamic; hence there is less opportunity for revolt. This is also because of its ability to keep pace with changing times.
- It keeps on developing with time; hence, it is up to date and popular.
Disadvantages of a flexible constitution include:
- It is a source of instability. This is because the government in power can use it for its benefit.
- It is unsuitable for a federation. This is because it can lead to undesired changes by the federal government or governments of federating units.
What is a rigid constitution?
This is the kind of constitution that cannot be easily amended.
It is amended by a particular procedure requiring the passing of the amendment proposal by a big majority of votes followed by ratification by the people in a referendum.
Advantages of a rigid constitution include:
- It is a source of stability in administration
- It maintains continuity in administration
- It cannot become a tool in the hands of the party exercising the state's power at a particular time.
- It prevents the autocratic exercise of powers by the government
- It is ideal for a federation
Disadvantages of a rigid constitution include:
- It doesn't keep pace with the fast-changing social environment
- It hinders the process of social development because of its inability to change easily
- It is a source of hindrance during emergencies
- Its inability to change easily can lead to revolts against the government
- It can be a source of conservativeness.
What is the difference between rigid and flexible constitution?
While a rigid constitution can't be easily amended, a flexible one can be amended in the same way as ordinary law.
3. Evolved and enacted
What about evolved and enacted types?
What is evolved constitution?
This type of constitution is not made at any time by any assembly of persons. Instead, it is a result of a slow and gradual process of evolution.
Its rules and principles draw binding force from being recognized as ancient, historical, time tested, and respected customs and conventions
What is an enacted constitution?
It is made, enacted, and adopted by an assembly or council called a Constituent Assembly or Constitutional Council.
It is duly passed after a thorough discussion over its objectives, principles, and provisions.
It is written in the form of a book or a series of documents systematically and formally.
Examples of enacted constitutions include those of India, the USA, Japan, and China.
Sources of constitution
- The people
- Statutory instruments or Acts of parliament
- Judicial precedents and interpretations, that is, court decisions
- Customs and conventions
- International conventions and treaties
- Academic works of eminent jurists and political scientists.
What are the features of constitution?
A good constitution should have the following features:
- Clarity and definiteness
- Declaration of rights
- Independence of judiciary
Qualities of a good constitution
A good constitution should have the following qualities:
- The language used must be simple, clear, and unambiguous
- It must be systematically written
- Should have the ability to change and develop according to the changes in the environment and the needs of the people
- Should be neither unduly rigid nor unduly flexible
- Must provide for the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people
- Should clearly define the organization, powers, functions, and interrelations of the government and its organs
- Must provide for the organization of a representative, responsible, limited, and accountable government
- Must clearly reflect the sovereignty of the people
Functions of constitution
A constitution does the following:
- Curbs the powers of government by fundamental law
- Protects the rights of individuals.
- Establishes the principle of the rule of law.
- Saves the state from anarchy.
- Defines the operations of the sovereign power of the state.
- Limits the vagaries of present and future generations.
Importance of constitution
Why do we need a constitution? Here are several reasons why a constitution is important:
- It governs all, and no one can violate its rules.
- It reflects the sovereign will of the people.
- It expresses the identity and values of a national community.
- It commits states to particular social, economic, and development goals.
- It declares and defines the rights and duties of citizens.
- It gives a detailed account of the organization of the government.
- It lays down the aims, objectives, values, and goals the people want to secure.
- In a federation, it lays down the division of powers between the central government and the governments of the federating states or provinces.
- It lays down the election system and political rights of the people.
- It provides for the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.
- It declares and defines the nature and authority of the political community.
There are different types of constitutions all over the world. Each state uses one that matches its needs. Which one does your country use? Let us know in the comment section below.