Compare and Contrast the British and Indian approaches to Parliamentary Sovereignty.

The question Compare and Contrast the British and Indian approaches to Parliamentary Sovereignty." was asked in the Mains 2023 GS Paper 2. Let us look at the model answer to this question.

Answer: Parliamentary sovereignty is a principle of the UK constitution. It states that the supreme law making authority in the country is the parliament which can make or unmake laws without interference from other institutions or authorities. Though, India and Britain follow Parliamentary form of Democracy but have certain differences over approaches in terms of parliamentary sovereignty.


British Approach

Indian Approach

Constitutional Framework

The UK possesses an uncodified or unwritten constitution. It is shaped by various sources, such as conventions, statutes, historical documents, and judicial precedents. For instance, the Magna Carta of 1215 laid foundational principles still relevant today.

India, in contrast, boasts a written constitution embodied in a comprehensive single document. Articles like Article 21 (Right to Life and Personal Liberty) and Article 19 (Freedom of Speech and Expression) explicitly define fundamental rights and principles.

Amendment Process

In the UK, its constitution enjoys flexibility, permitting amendments through a simple majority in Parliament. Notably, there is no clear distinction between ordinary and constitutional laws.

India's constitutional framework leans towards rigidity, necessitating special majority support in Parliament (Article 368). It also has feature of flexibility( Simple Majority)

Separation of Powers

The UK does not adhere to a formal separation of powers doctrine; Parliament maintains supremacy.

In India, a well-defined separation of powers prevails within the constitution. Articles like Article 50 (Separation of the judiciary from the executive) establish the separation, while Article 13 empowers the judiciary to review laws that violate fundamental rights.

Federal vs. Unitary State

The UK functions as a unitary state, with sovereignty centralized at Westminster. Devolved governments exist in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, deriving powers from Parliament.

India operates as a federal state, where authority is distributed between the central government and state governments, as expressly outlined in Articles like Article 245 (Distribution of legislative powers) and Article 246 (Subject-matter of laws made by Parliament and Legislatures of States).

Judicial Review

Traditionally, British courts have wielded limited authority in reviewing and invalidating legislation on constitutional grounds due to parliamentary supremacy.

India's judiciary holds the power of judicial review, permitting the examination and, when necessary, the annulment of laws enacted by Parliament or state legislatures in cases of constitutional violations. This principle was firmly established in the Kesavananda Bharati case (1973) and is enshrined in Article 13 (Laws inconsistent with or in derogation of the fundamental rights).

Basic Structure Doctrine

The UK lacks an equivalent concept to the Basic Structure Doctrine. Consequently, there is no legal doctrine empowering courts to scrutinize and annul constitutional amendments.

In contrast, India has embraced the Basic Structure Doctrine, empowering its judiciary to assess and strike down constitutional amendments that compromise the fundamental structure or essence of the Constitution.

Our Constitutional makers adopted the constitutional framework which had a mix of both Separation of power as well as Checks and balances which makes our democracy more inclusive, accountable and upholds the principle of Constitutional morality.