Public Law

In the run up to Christmas, the UK Government set the reindeers amongst the pigeons by publishing a draft cabinet manual which has been heralded in some quarters as the first step towards a UK written constitution. The impetus for the draft manual was a report by the House of Commons Justice Committee prior to the 2010 UK general election in response to the ‘threat’ (now reality) of a hung parliament.

The draft manual is in some ways an odd document – a cross between a description of government in Britain, explaining how things have been done in the past, and a prescription for how things should be done in future. It covers a range of topics including government formation, the relationship between the monarchy, the judiciary and the UK Government and how cabinet decision-making should operate. The author, Cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell, has stressed that it is intended to be used as a guide and not be confused for a written constitution.

Others argue of course that we have for some years been moving towards a codified constitution in the UK with the enactment of several constitutional statutes including the Human Rights Act, the Scotland Act 1998 and the legislation creating the other devolved administrations.

The deadline for comments on the draft manual is the 8 March 2011. One aim of the consultation is to ensure “that – as far as possible – the cabinet manual reflects an agreed position on important constitutional conventions”. An invitation to public lawyers everywhere to help shape future government practice?