UCL Faculty of Laws


UCL Laws Associate Prof Silvia Suteu explores the unwritten rules of constitutions in new project

14 December 2022

The new $1.7 million project, funded by Open Research Area (ORA) 7, will examine the phenomenon of unwritten constitutionalism from a comparative and interdisciplinary perspective.

Silvia Suteu

While a country’s written constitution is commonly understood as its most important rule book, a reality of constitutional democracies the world over is that no constitution has all of its rules written down. The fact that many norms and principles associated with constitutional orders are unwritten is a critical issue for constitutional scholarship, not to mention for the courts that are called upon to interpret constitutional law.

Along with colleagues in Canada and Germany, Associate Professor Silvia Suteu will work on a $1.7 million dollar international, interdisciplinary project, entitled “Unwritten Constitutional Norms and Principles: A Comparative Study”, that will examine the phenomenon of unwritten constitutionalism from a comparative and interdisciplinary perspective.

The project will examine three jurisdictions: Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany, countries that have each recently dealt with institutional and political questions about the scope of their constitutions and the role of courts in the enforcement of constitutional principles. By comparing each nation’s approach to unwritten constitutional norms and principles, the researchers will explore common issues faced by all constitutional orders, identify the factors that influence the recognition, definition and enforcement of unwritten constitutional rules, and investigate the role of judicial enforcement of a constitution’s unwritten rules in an era of democratic backsliding.

The project is funded by Open Research Area (ORA) 7, a special agreement for social sciences research between the French National Research Agency (ANR), the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) of Germany; the Economic and Social Research Council of UK Research and Innovation (ESRC) from the UK, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) in Canada. The goal of the agreement is to fund high-quality international research that strengthens co-operation across borders amongst researchers coming from at least three of the four subscribing countries.

Dr Suteu will co-lead the UK branch of this comparative study together with Dr Se-shauna Wheatle (Durham). The UK research team also includes Dr Hayley Hooper (Oxford), Dr Ruth Houghton (Newcastle), Dr Harshan Kumarasingham (Edinburgh), Prof Roger Masterman (Durham), and Prof Alison Young (Cambridge). The UK team will receive £487,471 from the ESRC, while the Canadian and German teams will receive amounts from their respective national funding agencies. Professor Vanessa MacDonnell of Ottawa University leads the project’s Canadian team, and the project’s German team is led by Professor Florian Meinel of Georg-August-Universität Göttingen.

You can read more about Dr Suteu’s research here.