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The shibboleth of sovereignty

Loughlin, Martin and Tierney, Stephen (2018) The shibboleth of sovereignty. Modern Law Review, 81 (6). pp. 989-1016. ISSN 0026-7961

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Identification Number: 10.1111/1468-2230.12376


Sovereignty is the central tenet of modern British constitutional thought but its meaning remains misunderstood. Lawyers treat it as a precise legal concept – the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty – but commonly fail to acknowledge that that doctrine is erected on a skewed sense of what sovereignty entails. In particular, they do not see that the doctrine rests on a particular political conviction, that the British state depends on a central authority equipped with an unlimited power. These two facets of sovereignty are now so deeply intertwined in legal consciousness that they cannot easily be unravelled and this becomes the main barrier to thinking constructively about Britain’s constitutional arrangements. This article substantiates these claims by explaining how the doctrine came into being, demonstrating how it is tied to a deeper political conviction, showing that its political underpinnings have been considerably weakened over the last century, and indicating how its re-working is the precondition of constitutional renewal.

Item Type: Article
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Additional Information: © 2018 The Author. The Modern Law Review © 2018 The Modern Law Review Limited.
Divisions: Law
Subjects: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe) > JN101 Great Britain
K Law > K Law (General)
Date Deposited: 05 Sep 2018 14:00
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2021 00:55

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