Difference Between Written and Unwritten Constitution (With Table)

Written vs Unwritten Constitution

Every nation needs laws and principles for the effective governance of its citizens. Often these principles are vast in number and vary from one country to another. So, what is acceptable in one country may not be acceptable in another.

An aggregate of such principles, laws, and obligations of a country is called the Constitution. The term originated from the Latin word constitution, which means regulations and orders.

An excavation in 1877 in Iraq provided evidence for one of the earliest Code of Justice by Sumerian King Urukagina of Lagash. As of today, the longest written constitution in the world is the Constitution of India, while the Constitution of Monaco is the shortest. Also, the Constitution of the USA is the oldest yet active constitution in the world.

A common confusion amongst the people is that a constitution can be in a written form only. However, there exists another type of constitution, called the unwritten constitution.

A written constitution is the one in which all the rules and regulations are written in a well-documented form and at one place. This is of particular advantage as a proof is available to back any claim relating to the functioning of the government.

An unwritten constitution pertains to a constitution in which the rules are not strictly documented in one place. This fact leads to confusion and conflict.

The difference between Written and Unwritten Constitution is that a written constitution has all its principles consolidated in a precise manner, whereas an unwritten constitution has scattered principles.


 

Comparison Table Between Written and Unwritten Constitution (in Tabular Form)

Parameter Of Comparison Written Constitution Unwritten Constitution
Definition A written constitution encompasses written rules laid down by authorized persons in the past. An unwritten constitution is limited to the accepted beliefs and implicit code of conduct of a country. The rules are not stated explicitly in written form.
Power Exercising Authority The power resides with the judiciary. The power resides with the Legislature.
Flexibility A written constitution is generally less flexible and more rigid. Hence, it takes a long time to amend a law. An unwritten constitution is highly flexible. Therefore, a law can be swiftly amended or even scrapped off.
Demarcation of LawsThere is a clear line of demarcation between the Constitution and other laws. There is no clear distinction between the Constitution and other laws.
Prevalence Countries such as India and the USA have written constitutions. Countries such as Israel and the UK have unwritten constitutions.

 

What is Written Constitution?

A written constitution is an enacted constitution. This means that it has been brought into force by deliberate and carefully scrutinized conventions for better governance.

A written constitution can further be codified or uncodified. A codified constitution has all its principles consolidated in a single document. However, if the constitution is uncodified, these documents exist in a scattered form.

A written constitution offers several advantages. It has exact dates regarding enactment and clear distinctions between the powers of the citizens and the state.

However, it also has many disadvantages. It may take years to amend an archaic law or formulate new laws according to modern standards. This strangulates the growth of the country. The countries such as the USA and India have written constitutions. In these countries, the judiciary has immense power. This power helps to keep a check on the activities of the ruling government.

Written Constitution
 

What is Unwritten Constitution?

An unwritten constitution is limited in written assets. This means that the legal documents are scarce, but they are not non-existential.

It is also called an uncodified constitution. Few laws may be found in some documents, while others may not even have a single trace of being jotted down.

It is very advantageous for a country looking towards a speedy growth. It becomes easy to enforce new laws and amend old ones. This is due to the inherent flexibility of the constitution.

However, it also harbors some serious demerits. The laws are unclear, and can be deliberately modified to favor a particular strata. Therefore, the citizens are expected to remain extra vigilant for safeguarding their rights. Countries such as the United Kingdom have unwritten constitutions. The Parliament exercises power to make and break the laws. This allows liberal changes for old-laid conservative rules.

Unwritten Constitution

Main Differences Between Written and Unwritten Constitution

A constitution is drafted with the expectation of a better framework for law and governance in a country. A country adopts a constitution based on its distinct history and notion of justice.

People rarely try to dig deep for the variety of constitutions and their working. They end up considering that written and unwritten constitutions are the same, but they are not.

The main differences between the two are :

  • A written constitution has all its basic principles in a single document, whereas an unwritten constitution has few written and many unwritten principles.
  • A written constitution may be codified or uncodified. On the other hand, an unwritten constitution is generally uncodified.
  • A written constitution gives immense power to the judiciary, whereas an unwritten constitution grants these administrative powers to the legislature.
  • A written constitution is rigid, which makes the amendment of law difficult. On the other hand, an unwritten constitution is very flexible to changes.
  • The written constitution clearly separates the laws of the central authority and the states, whereas the unwritten constitution does not.

 

Conclusion

The contemporary world is a storehouse of countries and their constitutions. It is common for a big nation to have conflicts among people of various ethnic groups. Sometimes, these conflicts pave the way for the emergence of new countries.

A constitution holds the basic principles of a state, fundamental rights of the citizens, and various legal frameworks.

Some constitutions are a result of a popular revolution in the past, while others have evolved with the changing times.

Both written and unwritten constitutions are equally meaningful, as they safeguard the rights of citizens. A good constitution should be both – rigid in providing basic rights and flexible in adopting new ones.

As of 2017, only two countries – New Zealand and the United Kingdom have unwritten constitutions. Still, they are among some of the most developed countries of the world.

However, to achieve this, the citizens need to be extra cautious about their implicit rights in an unwritten constitution. The constitution of India is remarkable as it is both rigid and flexible. It is a written constitution that has evolved with time to strike a balance with the changing aspirations of the people and global circumstances.


 

Word Cloud for Difference Between Written and Unwritten Constitution

The following is a collection of the most used terms in this article on Written and Unwritten Constitution. This should help in recalling related terms as used in this article at a later stage for you.

Difference between Written and Unwritten Constitution