The Constitution Unit


NEW BRIEFING. Constitutional Principles: What Are They and Why Do They Matter?

11 October 2022

The Constitution Unit has today issued a new briefing on the principles underpinning constitutional democracy.

Dispatch box

Debates about the health of UK democracy are now commonplace. But such debates raise the question of what we should consider to be the characteristics of a constitutional democracy – the core principles which we should take care to protect.

A new Constitution Unit briefing sets out these core principles. Drawing on the work of international democracy organisations, it defines five fundamental constitutional principles:

  1. Institutional checks and balances
  2. Representative government, and free and fair elections
  3. Rule of law
  4. Fundamental rights
  5. Integrity and standards

Although the UK famously lacks a codified constitution, these values are deeply embedded in its constitutional traditions and arrangements. The briefing explains the rationale underpinning each, their established role in the British constitutional tradition, and their roles in contemporary debates in UK politics. It argues that those working in all parts of the political system have a responsibility to uphold these principles; MPs, who sit at the heart of the UK constitution, have a particularly important role to play as the ultimate safeguard.

This briefing is one in a series published as part of our project on ‘constitutional principles and the health of democracy’. Future briefings in the series will explore these topics in greater depth; previous briefings can be found on the project page.

This briefing was authored by:

Meg Russell FBA, Professor of British and Comparative Politics at UCL and Director of the Constitution Unit.

Alan Renwick, Professor of Democratic Politics at UCL and Deputy Director of the Constitution Unit.

Lisa James, Research Fellow in the Constitution Unit.



Government Dispatch box image credit: Herry Lawford, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons