Going by criterion, there are two basic forms of constitutions, which are: written and unwritten constitutions. Yet, it is important to note that every constitution is a blend or mixture of written and unwritten rules. It is the balance between these forms of constitutions that varies significantly.
Thus, no constitution is entirely written. Few constitutions, for example, indicate the roles of, even point out, the type of political parties and interest groups. Likewise, no constitution is entirely unwritten in the sense that none of its provisions has any legal substance, all of them being conventions, customs or norms.
A written constitution is any document or set of documents establishing the selection of rules embodied in a document in which the fundamental principles concerning the organisation of a political system, powers of its various agencies are written down and codified. On the other hand, unwritten constitutions are those which the fundamental principles and powers of a government are not written down or quadified in a single forma document.
This chapter covers the definition, types, sources, features and scope of constitution.
Written Constitution vs Unwritten Constitution | Differences
Written constitutions are written down and codified while unwritten constitution is not contained in a single document.
Written constitution are generally rigid and difficult to amend while unwritten constitution are flexible and easy to mend.
A written constitution can easily be referred to. For example, in law courts. An unwritten constitution on the other hand cannot be easily referred to because it is not contained in a single document.
Written constitutions are easily available in a single document and can easily be obtained and read. Unwritten constitution cannot be easily documented, obtained or studied.
In written constitution, the rights of individuals are entrenched in the constitution while individuals rights may not be stated in unwritten constitutions.
In written constitutions, rights of individuals are easily known and they can easily seek redress in court when their rights are violated. The rights of individuals might not be stated in an unwritten constitution.
Written constitution ensure political stability since method of acquiring power is clearly defined. Unwritten constitution on the other hand cannot make for political stability since method of acquiring power are not properly stated.
Generally, written constitutions are not easily adaptable to changing situations while unwritten constitutions are sweetable in time of emergencies.
Method of amendment is clearly stated in written constitution and no group or individual can change the constitution without the consent of the lawmakers and the people. Methods of amendments might not be stated in unwritten constitution. Hence, arbitrary changes could be made in the constitutions by a few selfish individuals.
In written constitutions, decisions are not easily made because of the large number of people involved in decision-making but that is not the case in unwritten constitutions, as decisions are easily made and carried out.
This is a constitution that is contained and published in a single document. In other words, it is a constitution in which the fundamental laws, conventions, principles, customs, norms, rules and regulations governing a country are codified.
The present 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a good example of written constitution.
Other countries operating this type of constitution include United States of America, Canada, Ghana, India and France among others. It has to be
noted that a written constitution is a necessary condition in Federal
In most federations, a written constitution helps to define the
relationship between the central and the component units. It usually contains a preamble, which states the fundamental principles, philosophy and objectives of the country and its laws that are legally enforceable.
Here, the fundamental principles and powers of a government are not written down or quadified in a single formal document. Simply put, an unwritten constitution is one in which the fundamental laws, conventions, principles, customs, rules, norms and regulations governing a country are not written down formally in any single dated document called constitution.
Although, Britain and other liberal democracy like Israel and New Zealand together with a handful of non democratic states, such as Bhutan, Saudi Arabia and Oman said to have unwritten constitution but as mentioned to you earlier, this is not totally true. For instance, Britain does not have a written constitution like United States and Nigeria, what we today refer to as the British constitution is derived from different sources including the Magna Carta of 1215, Parliament acts of 1911 and 1949 and Bill of Rights among others.