Does Parliament still remain sovereign?

Parliament is seen as the sovereign body because it has absolute and unlimited legal authority, reflected in its ability to make, amend and repeal any laws it wishes. However, there are doubts about the accuracy and continuing relevance of parliamentary sovereignty to reasons such as the joining to the EU, devolution and the implantation of the Human Rights Act.

Firstly, parliament’s sovereignty can be questioned due to the joining of the EC in 1973 which means the UK has become the subject to the body of European laws and treaties. These laws are seen as superior to UK laws and British courts must implement EU laws. For example, the Factortame case of 1990 showed how the EU courts overruled the Act of Parliament whereby a Spanish fishing company was successful in arguing that they were being illegally denied access to UK waters. The EU’s powers have been further extended by increased use of qualified majority voting, the creation of a Common Foreign and Security Policy and Justice and Home Affairs Policy.

On the other hand, the UK can still be seen as sovereign because they could opt out of the EU membership. UK leaders have managed to exercise influence either in keeping certain policy areas off the table or arranging opt-outs and this limits the scope of the EU’s powers. The concept of pooled sovereignty is also important as extension of QMV may have removed the national veto in many cases, but it also acts as a recognition of the benefits of the membership, e.g. the removal of trade barriers between member states, and EU enlargement.

Secondly, the parliament can be seen as losing its sovereignty due to devolution. The transfer of Westminster’s power to elected, sub-national governments has led to a raft of different legislation emanating from these new bodies. For instance, Scottish and Welsh students have their university tuitions fees covered, the ban on promoting homosexuality in schools has been repealed by Holyrood, and the Northern Ireland Assembly has ploughed its furrows on rights with the creation of a Single Equality Act.

However, in de facto terms changes in the location of political power have resulted in a quasi-federal landscape where policy differences continue to multiply throughout the Celtic fringes and the capital. But the de jure status of these new elected structures is not guaranteed. The UK retains its unitary constitution; it is not a federal state. Westminster, if it so desired, could impose direct rule on the various regions or abolish them completely.

Lastly, parliament’s sovereignty could also be undermined due to The Human Rights Act. Since the introduction of the act in 2000 judges have had the power to review cases in light of the ECHR and to declare Acts of Parliament incompatible with the Convention. In 2004 the Law Lords ruled 8-1 against the government’s indefinite detention of terrorist suspects in Belmarsh and Broadmoor prisons under the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001.

Yet, In the highly controversial Belmarsh Case, Parliament could have ignored the judgement declaring indefinite detention for foreign nationals, furthermore, even though Parliament chose not to ignore the judgement, the suspected international terrorists had to remain in prison until new legislation was written, since the principal of parliamentary sovereignty makes it impossible to strike down primary legislation.

In conclusion, it is very debatable whether parliament remains sovereign to this day, however it is clear to say that any means that can remove parliament’s sovereignty such as the membership of the EU can be rebuked by parliament and it will always remain sovereign.

Sofiya Agaeva

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