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A constitutional complexity

A few warnings are necessary before attempting to describe the legal status of religion in the UK. The United Kingdom is a composite state, made up of four distinct countries with three quite separate legal systems (for England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland). Modern legislation is often made separately for each country, and in 1999 a Scottish Parliament was restored after an interval of nearly three centuries.

Moreover, the state has no written constitution. Certain key documents and conventions are regarded as constitutional, but there is no simple list of sources of such authority. Similarly, not all law is codified; the English system in particular is based on ‘common law’, modified and supplemented by statutes. The structure of legal material and the style of legal thinking in the United Kingdom are thus rather different than elsewhere in Europe.

In the field of Church and State the complications are even greater. There is an established church in England (the Church of England) of which the Queen is Supreme Governor. The Anglican Churches in Wales and Northern Ireland have been disestablished, however, and that in Scotland is small by comparison with the (established) Church of Scotland. The Queen, Supreme Governor of the episcopal Church of England, is also a member of the reformed, presbyterian Church of Scotland.

The laws and regulations of religious group in the United Kingdom are collected and rendered available by the Interfaith Legal Advisers Network, and housed at the Centre for Law and Religion.

D 11 September 2012    ADavid McClean

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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