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Comparison of Indian Constitution with British constitution for UPSC Exam

NatureUnwrittenWritten Constitution and lengthiest
AmendabilityFlexible and can be amended by 50% of the members present and votingHybrid of Rigid and flexible
DPSP and DutiesAbsentPresent
OriginSeen evolutionary development and not formed by a constituent assemblyWas formed by constituent assembly
FederalismUnitary in character – All powers of the government are vested in the British Parliament, which is a sovereign body    Quasi federal and works on competitive federalism   Distribution of powers between centre and states
Nature of stateConstitutional monarchy with the king as the nominal head.   ing has no discretionary powers. He is known as ‘Golden Zero’  Republic with president as the nominal head.   President enjoys discretionary powers.
Parliament British Parliament is the only legislative body in the country with unfettered power of legislation   Has two houses namely House of lords and House of commons.Judicial review is the basic structure of constitution and parliament is not sovereign, instead people of india are Sovereign   Has Lok sabha and Rajya sabha
ExecutiveIt consists of King Prime Minister Council of Ministers (CoM) Permanent Executive, the Civil Servants Privy Council    Ministers and Bureaucrats form the Executive
Office of Prime MinisterP.M. will always be a member of the Lower House   PM can be a member of either House of Parliament
Judiciaryjudiciary lacks the intrinsic power to strike down an Act of Parliament as Parliament is Sovereign   British legal system is completely based on ‘Common Law System’Judicial review is the basic structure of Indian constitution   Laws in India has codified in the form of IPC and CrPC

Similarities between Indian and British constitution

  • Independence of Judiciary

The Rule of Law in Britain is safeguarded by the provision that judges can only be removed from office for serious misbehavior and according to a procedure requiring the consent of both the Houses of Parliament. 

  • British Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers: Britain has a Cabinet form of government. The power doesn’t lie in one person, but the entire Council of Ministers.
    • The principle is, “all Ministers sink and swim together”. It is based on collective responsibility towards the Lower House. 
  • Indian bureaucracy is modelled on the British bureaucracy.

Some features are:

  • Bureaucracy in Britain is generalist
  • They are expected to be politically neutral
  • Recruited through competitive exams
  • Enjoy a lot of immunities

Sovereignty of Parliament

The term Sovereignty means Supreme Power. A very important feature of the British Constitution is sovereignty of the British Parliament (a written constitution being absent).

The British Parliament is the only legislative body in the country with unfettered power of legislation. It can make, amend or repeal any law. Though in India’s case, we have legislature at state level too, yet the law making power of the Indian Parliament roughly corresponds to that of the British Parliament.

The courts have no power to question the validity of the laws passed by the British Parliament. The British Parliament may amend the constitution on its own authority, like an ordinary law of the land. It can make illegal what is legal and legalize what is illegal.

Here, there is a marked difference, vis-à-vis the power of Indian Judiciary to keep a tab on the legality of the law framed. Also, the ‘Basic Structure’ doctrine, lends the Indian Judiciary further power to question the legality of the law, in light of the fact that the Supreme Court of India is the highest interpreter of the Constitution of India.

Executive of UK

The Executive in Britain is called as Crown. Earlier, the Crown symbolized King. Now, the King is part of the Crown.

The Crown, as an institution, consists of the following:

  1. King
  2. Prime Minister
  3. Council of Ministers (CoM)
  4. Permanent Executive, the Civil Servants
  5. Privy Council

Difference between the British and Indian PM

Constitutional position of the Indian P.M. is modeled on the British P.M., with one difference. In India, the PM can be a member of either House of Parliament, i.e. Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha. However, this is not so in Britain. It is a convention in Britain that the P.M. will always be a member of the Lower House (House of Commons) only.

Privy Council of UK

It has been one of the advisory bodies to the King. It has lost relevance because of the emergence of the Cabinet. Cabinet decisions are the decisions of the Privy Council. It has some supervisory role w.r.t. University of Oxford, Cambridge etc. It also has some role in resolution of disputes related to the Church as well as a Court of Appeal in some admiralty cases.

The House of Lords

The House of Lords is the second chamber, or upper house, of the United Kingdom’s bi-cameral (two chamber) Parliament. Together with the House of Commons and the Crown, the House of Lords form the UK Parliament. There are four types of members of the house:

  1. Life peers:These make up the majority of the membership. The power to appoint belongs formally to the Crown, but members are essentially created by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister. Life peers’ titles cease on death.
  2. Law lords:Up to 12 Lords of Appeal in Ordinary are specially appointed to hear appeals from the lower courts. They are salaried and can continue to hear appeals until they are 70 years of age.
  3. Bishops:The Anglican Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Bishops of Durham, London and Winchester and the 21 senior Diocesan Bishops from other dioceses of the Church of England hold seats in the House. This is because the Church of England is the ‘established’ Church of the State. When they retire the bishops stop being members of the House.
  4. Elected Hereditary peers:The House of Lords Act, 1999 ended the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords. Until then there had been about 700 hereditary members. While the Bill was being considered, an amendment was passed (known as the Weatherill amendment after Lord Weatherill who proposed it), which enabled 92 of the existing hereditary peers to remain as members.

The House of Lords can propose and make changes, known as amendments. However its powers are limited; if it doesn’t approve of a piece of legislation, it can only delay its passage into law for up to a year. After that, there are rules to ensure that the wishes of the House of Commons and the Government of the day prevail.

In fact, the House of Lords could be labeled as one of the weakest upper house in the world. Since the passage of the Act of 1919 and 1949, the House of Lords has lost all real legislative powers. It is simply a delaying chamber now. It can delay an ordinary bill for a maximum period of one year and money bill for a maximum period of one month.

In comparison to Rajya Sabha, the House of Lords is a weak house. Rajya Sabha has equal powers with Lok Sabha, as far as an ordinary bill is concerned (though, there is provision of a joint session, but it is an extraordinary device).

Rajya Sabha has equal power with Lok Sabha as far as the amendment of the Constitution is concerned. Rajya Sabha is also a delaying chamber, like the House of Lords, as far as a Money Bill is concerned. Rajya Sabha can delay the bill for a maximum of fourteen days. Rajya Sabha does have some special powers, which are not available to Lok Sabha; for example: Articles 249 and 312.

The House of Commons

This is the lower chamber, but the one with most authority. It is chaired by the Speaker.

Unlike the Speaker in the US House of Representatives, the post is non-political and indeed, by convention, the political parties do not contest the Parliamentary constituency held by the Speaker. The number of members varies slightly from time to time to reflect population change.

In modern practice, the Prime Minister is the head of the Government and is always a member of the majority party or coalition in the House of Commons.

The Cabinet comprises primarily leading House of Commons Members of the majority, although Members of the House of Lords have served as Cabinet ministers. In fact, designating someone outside Parliament as a “life peer” has been one recent means of bringing someone essentially from private life into the Government.

The Prime Minister, although head of the Government and an MP, is now not usually the Leader of the House of Commons.

The Leader of the House of Commons, a member of the Government, is the chief spokesman for the majority party on matters of the internal operation of the House of Commons.

The Office of the Leader issues announcements of the impending House of Commons schedule, and a routine inquiry from the Opposition’s counterpart serves as an occasion for the Leader to announce the business for the next two weeks of session.

In the House of Commons, party organizations (akin to the Republican Conference or Democratic Caucus) meet regularly to discuss policy, and to provide an opportunity for backbench party members to voice their views to ministers or shadow cabinet members in a private forum.

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March 2024