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The quest for constitutionalism in UK public law discourse

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At first sight constitutionalism appears to be a key concept in public law discourse in the United Kingdom. It appears in all the major academic discussions from the rule of law and judicial review to the ‘new constitutional settlement’ and in relation to constitutional culture. And yet attempts to define the scope, meaning and role of constitutionalism remain vague. This article discusses the different fields in which constitutionalism is discussed and the different meanings that are attributed to the concept. It shows that constitutionalism is routinely conflated by public law scholars with other constitutional values and principles, like the rule of law or separation of powers. This article argues that constitutionalism should either be conceived as distinct from those concepts or, failing that, can safely be eliminated from public law discourse. The article concludes by asking whether a nuanced and normative discussion of constitutionalism could have any meaningful application in the United Kingdom constitution.

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