Conventions of Unamendability: Covert Constitutional Unamendability in (Two) Politically Enforced Constitutions

  • Gert Jan GeertjesEmail author
  • Jerfi Uzman
Part of the Ius Gentium: Comparative Perspectives on Law and Justice book series (IUSGENT, volume 68)


Legal scholarship on the unamendability of constitutional provisions tends to focus on legal systems with a strong tradition of judicial review of legislation. Legal systems such as the United Kingdom and The Netherlands, where the constitutionality of laws is a matter for the political branches and not for the courts, are routinely ignored. They do not fit existing perceptions of constitutional unamendability and arguably fall well outside the categories of either explicit or implicit constitutional unamendability. Nonetheless, these ‘politically enforced constitutions’ still contain mechanisms of unamendability, be it of an informal nature. These take the shape of judicial or institutional disobedience. The doctrine of unconstitutional constitutional amendments thus becomes relevant to a broader range of constitutional systems. However, this type of unamendability requires a more subtle approach. It does not emerge from constitutional provisions, whether explicit or not, but rather occurs in the form of a constitutional convention of unamendability. The question whether parts of the constitution should be regarded as unamendable thus cannot be solely couched in the all-or-nothing terminology of legal rules. Instead, conventions of unamendability, due to their principle-based character, may be subject to changing circumstances and exceptions. Existing literature on constitutional conventions may be used as a model in order to build a framework of analysis for the concept of constitutional unamendability in politically enforced constitutions.



We are grateful to Richard Albert and Bertil Emrah Oder for the opportunity to present our paper at the Koç University & Boston College Law School ICON-S Workshop on unamendable constitutional provisions. We thank the participants of the workshop and an anonymous peer reviewer for their helpful advice. Naturally, the usual disclaimer applies


  1. Albert R (2008) Counterconstitutionalism. Dalhousie Law J 31:37Google Scholar
  2. Albert R (2009) Nonconstitutional amendments. Can J Law Jurisprud 22:5Google Scholar
  3. Albert R (2010) Constitutional handcuffs. Arizona State Law J 43:663Google Scholar
  4. Albert R (2014a) Constructive unamendability in Canada and the United States. Supreme Court Law Rev 67:181Google Scholar
  5. Albert R (2014b) Constitutional disuse or desuetude: the case of article V. Boston U Law Rev 94:1029, 1073Google Scholar
  6. Albert R (2015a) Amending constitutional amendment rules. Int J Const Law 3:655Google Scholar
  7. Albert R (2015b) The unamendable core of the United States constitution. In: Koltay A (ed) Comparative perspectives on the fundamental freedom of expression. Wolters KluwerGoogle Scholar
  8. Allan TRS (1985) Legislative supremacy and the rule of law: democracy and constitutionalism. CLJ 44:111Google Scholar
  9. Allan TRS (1993) Law, liberty and justice: The legal foundations of British constitutionalism. OUP, p 267Google Scholar
  10. Allan TRS (2001) Constitutional justice: a liberal theory of justice. OUPGoogle Scholar
  11. Allan TRS (2013) The Sovereignty of law: freedom, constitution and common law. OUP, pp 156–161Google Scholar
  12. Andeweg RB, Irwin GA (2014) Governance and politics of the Netherlands. Palgrave Macmillan, p 167Google Scholar
  13. Arnot C (2009) Ruling class: interview with Vernon Bogdanor. The Guardian, London, 17 February 2009. Accessed on 14 July 2017
  14. Barak A (2011) Unconstitutional constitutional amendments. Israel Law Rev 44:321Google Scholar
  15. Barber NW (2011) The afterlife of parliamentary Sovereignty. Int J Const Law 9:144Google Scholar
  16. Bates E (2015) The UK and Strasbourg: a strained relationship—the long view. In: Ziegler KS, Wicks E, Hodson L (eds) The UK and European human rights: a strained relationship? HartGoogle Scholar
  17. Bellamy R (2011) Political constitutionalism and the human rights act. Int J Const Law 9:86, 92Google Scholar
  18. Bernal C (2013) Unconstitutional constitutional amendments in the case study of Colombia: an analysis of the justification and meaning of the constitutional replacement doctrine. Int J Const Law 11:339Google Scholar
  19. Besson S (2008) The reception process in Ireland and the United Kingdom. In: Keller H, Stone-Sweet A (eds) A Europe of rights: the impact of the ECHR on national legal systems. OUP, p 40Google Scholar
  20. Bezemek C (2011) Constitutional core(s): amendments, entrenchments, eternities and beyond—Prolegomena to a theory of normative volatility. J Jurisprud 11:517Google Scholar
  21. Bogdanor V (2009) The New British constitution. Hart, pp 271–290Google Scholar
  22. Campbell T (2001) Incorporation through interpretation. In Campbell T, Ewing K, Tomkins A (eds) Sceptical essays on human rights. OUPGoogle Scholar
  23. Cariás AB (2011) Constitutional courts as positive legislators: a comparative law study. CUP, Chapter 2Google Scholar
  24. Colón-Ríos J (2013) Beyond parliamentary sovereignty and judicial supremacy: the doctrine of implicit limits to constitutional reform in Latin America. Victoria U Wellington Law Rev 44:521Google Scholar
  25. Colón-Ríos J (2014) A new typology of judicial review of legislation. Glob Constitutionalism 3:143Google Scholar
  26. Dicey AV (1959) Introduction to the study of the law of the constitution. Macmillan, pp 3–4Google Scholar
  27. Donner JPH (2013) The principle of legality revisited. In van Roosmalen M et al (eds) Fundamental rights and principles. IntersentiaGoogle Scholar
  28. Dworkin R (1977) Taking rights seriously. Duckworth, pp 22–28Google Scholar
  29. Elliott M (2001) The constitutional foundations of judicial review. Hart, p 197Google Scholar
  30. Elliott M (2002) Parliamentary Sovereignty and the new constitutional order: legislative freedom, political reality and convention. LS 22:340Google Scholar
  31. Elliott M (2013) A Damp Squib in the long grass: the report of the commission on a bill of rights. Europ Human Rights Law Rev 137Google Scholar
  32. Elliott M (2014) Common-law constitutionalism and proportionality in the supreme court. Kennedy v the Charity Commission. Accessed on 14 July 2017
  33. Elliott M (2015) Beyond the European convention: human rights and the common law. CLP 68:1Google Scholar
  34. Ewing KD, Gearty CA (1990) Freedom under thatcher: civil liberties in modern Britain. OUP, p 255Google Scholar
  35. Feldman D (2002) Civil liberties and human rights in England and Wales, 2nd ed. OUP, pp 70–74Google Scholar
  36. Feldman D (2005) None, one or several? Perspectives on the UK’s constitution. CLJ 64:329, 334Google Scholar
  37. Feldman D (2007) Institutional roles and meanings of compatibility under the human rights act 1998. In: Fenwick H, Masterman R, Phillipson G (eds) Judicial reasoning under the human rights act. CUPGoogle Scholar
  38. Feldman D (2009) Human rights. In: Blom-Cooper L, Dickson B, Drewry G (eds) The judicial house of lords 1876–2009. OUP, p 544Google Scholar
  39. Feldman D (2011) Which in you case you have not got: constitutionalism at home and abroad. CLP 64:117, 123Google Scholar
  40. Feldman D (2013) Constitutional conventions. In: Qvortrup M (ed) The British constitution: continuity and change. A Festschrift for Vernon Bogdanor. Hart, p 106Google Scholar
  41. Fredman S (2013) From dialogue to deliberation: human rights adjudication and prisoners’ rights to vote. PL 292Google Scholar
  42. Garlicki L, Garlicka Z (2011) External review of constitutional amendments? International law as norm of reference. Israel Law Rev 44:343, 343Google Scholar
  43. Goldsworthy J (1999) The Sovereignty of Parliament: history and philosophy. OUP, p 243Google Scholar
  44. Goldsworthy J (2008) Unwritten constitutional principles. In: Huscroft G (ed) Expounding the constitution: essays in constitutional theory. CUP, pp 277, 302Google Scholar
  45. Goldsworthy J (2010) Parliamentary Sovereignty: contemporary debates. CUP, pp 123–126Google Scholar
  46. Gözler K (2008) Judicial review of constitutional amendments. Ekin PressGoogle Scholar
  47. Green T (2010) The resistance to minarets in Europe. J Church State 52:619Google Scholar
  48. Griffith JAG (1979) The political constitution. MLR 42:15Google Scholar
  49. Hale H (2014) UK constitutionalism on the March? In: Keynote address to the constitutional and administrative law bar association conference. Accessed 14 July 2017.
  50. Halmai G (2012) Unconstitutional constitutional amendments: constitutional courts as guardians of the constitution? Constellations 19:182Google Scholar
  51. Hirschl R (2006) The new constitution and the judicialization of pure politics worldwide. Fordham Law Rev 75:721Google Scholar
  52. Hirschl R (2008) The judicialization of mega-politics and the rise of political courts. Annu Rev Political Sci 11:93Google Scholar
  53. Hoffmann L (2009) The Universality of human rights. Judicial Studies Board Annual Lecture, 19 March 2009. Accessed on 14 July 2017
  54. Jacobsohn G (2006) An unconstitutional constitution? A comparative perspective? Int J Const Law 4:460Google Scholar
  55. Jacobsohn G (2009) Constitutional identity. Harvard University Press, p 82Google Scholar
  56. Jaconelli J (2005) Do constitutional conventions bind? CLJ 64:149, 168–176Google Scholar
  57. Jaconelli J (2015) The proper role for constitutional conventions. DULJ 38:363, 368Google Scholar
  58. Jennings SI (1959) The law and the constitution, 3rd ed. London University Press, p 136Google Scholar
  59. Kavanagh A (2004) The elusive divide between interpretation and legislation under the human rights act 1998. OJLS 24:259Google Scholar
  60. Kavanagh A (2009) Constitutional review under the human rights act. CUP, UKGoogle Scholar
  61. Laws J (1995) Law and democracy. PL 72Google Scholar
  62. Marshall G (1986) Constitutional conventions: the rules and forms of political accountability. Clarendon Press, pp 10–12Google Scholar
  63. Matsui S (2011) Why is the Japanese supreme court so conservative? Washington U Law Rev 88:1375, 1413Google Scholar
  64. Mazzone J (2005) Unamendments. Iowa Law Rev 90:1747Google Scholar
  65. Morton PA (1991–92) Conventions of the British constitution. Holdsworth Law Rev 15:114, 157–158Google Scholar
  66. Munro CR (1975) Laws and conventions distinguished. LQR 91:218, 222Google Scholar
  67. O’Connell R (1999) Guardians of the constitution: unconstitutional constitutional norms. J Civ Liberties 4:48Google Scholar
  68. Otto JM (2007) The compatibility of Sharia with the rule of law. Fundamental conflict: between civilisations? Within civilisations? Or between scholars?. In: Groen A et al (eds) Knowledge in ferment: dilemmas in science, scholarship and society. Leiden University Press, p 137Google Scholar
  69. Özbudun E (2009) Judicial review of constitutional amendments in Turkey. Europ Publ Law 15:533Google Scholar
  70. Palmer A (2009) Abu Qatada’s compensation makes a Mockery of human rights. The daily telegraph. London, 21 February 2009. Accessed on 14 July 2017
  71. Patterson M (2007) Surely you didn’t mean no jurisdiction: why the supreme court’s selective hearing in Hamdan is good for democracy. Harvard Law Policy Rev 1:279, 280Google Scholar
  72. Peters A (2009) The Swiss Referendum on the Prohibition of Minarets. (EJILTalk) Blog Europ J Int Law. 2 Dec 2009. Accessed on 14 July 2017
  73. Porter H, Hirsch A (2010) The human rights act is here to stay. The Guardian, London, 23 April 2010. Accessed on 14 July 2017
  74. Roznai Y (2013) Unconstitutional constitutional amendments: the migration and success of a constitutional idea. Am J Comp Law 61:657, 662Google Scholar
  75. Roznai Y (2014) Legisprudence limitations on constitutional amendments? Reflections on the Czech constitutional court’s declaration of unconstitutional constitutional act. ICL J 8:8 29Google Scholar
  76. Roznai Y, Yolcu S (2012) An unconstitutional constitutional amendment—The Turkish perspective: a comment on the Turkish constitutional court’s headscarf decision. Int J Const Law 10:175Google Scholar
  77. Samanta N, Basu S (2008) Test of basic structure: an analysis. NUJS Law Rev 1:499, 501Google Scholar
  78. Sandalow T (1969) Comment on Powell v MacCormack. UCLA Law Rev 17:164, 168Google Scholar
  79. Sathanapally A (2012) Beyond disagreement. Open remedies in human rights adjudication. OUP, pp 48, 224Google Scholar
  80. Schwartzberg M (2007) Democracy and legal change. CUP, pp 3–8Google Scholar
  81. Smith E (2011) Old and protected? On the “supra-constitutional” clause in the constitution of Norway. Israel L Rev 44:369Google Scholar
  82. Stephen L (1882) The science of ethics. Elder and Co, Smith, p 137Google Scholar
  83. Tushnet M (1998) Two versions of judicial supremacy. William Mary Law Rev 39:945Google Scholar
  84. Tushnet M (2006) Comparative constitutional law. In: Reimann M, Zimmermann R (eds) The Oxford handbook of comparative law. OUP, pp 1225, 1242Google Scholar
  85. Uzman J, Barkhuysen T, van Emmerik ML (2011) The Dutch supreme court: a reluctant positive legislator? In Brewer-Carias AR (ed) Constitutional courts as positive legislators. CUP, the NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  86. van den Berg JTJ (2006) De Eerste Kamer, of de zin van rivaliteit. Leiden University PressGoogle Scholar
  87. Voermans W (2009) Constitutional reserves and covert constitutions. Indian J Const Law 3:84Google Scholar
  88. Wade HWR (1955) The basis of legal Sovereignty. CLJ 13:172, 189Google Scholar
  89. Whittington KH (2009) The political foundations of judicial supremacy. Princeton University Press, p 7Google Scholar
  90. Wright G (1991) Could a constitutional amendment be unconstitutional? Loyola Univ Law J 22:741Google Scholar
  91. Young A (2009) Parliamentary Sovereignty and the human rights act. Hart, pp 10–11Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Leiden University Law SchoolLeidenThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations