Posted by on December 6, 2012

Comparing the different constitutions of the world

Comparing the different constitutions of the world

I like the US constitution and the bill of rights right up to amendment 12. Its a pretty easy read and not that long. There is a profound difference between the US constitution and other constitutions I have read.

The people who emigrated to what was to become the US were fleeing persecution from Europe. Many saw this as an opportunity for freedom from the tyranny they endured where they had come from. For this reason the the people running the states valued autonomy. The states to agreed to the federation on the condition that federal powers were limited and the US constitution and bill of rights represents an explicit attempt to limits the power of government.

All other constitutions I have read put no limit on government power. Some may appear to but most have exceptions. Amendment 10 even states

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

So by default it is a state or individual right if its not covered elswhere in the constitution.

The constitution also details how the federal Republic (the form of government that governs the United States of America) is run. The founding fathers of the US went to a great deal of trouble to put together a

As I said earlier I also looked at other constitutions of the world below is what I found

UK

The UK does not have a constitution but does have a document called the magnacarter.It was written in 1215 at a time when the King John was needing money and assistance from the barons and the church. The barons agreed to provide assistance and money but in return they required some limits to royal power which was the birth of the English legal system.

The magnacarter documented these requirement which was signed at Runnymede. important items in the document include

  • A right to a trial by jury
  • Innocent until proven guilty

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

This one has a huge clause in the bottom of this one

Generally

Article 29.

(3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

UK

Other constitutions or founding documents were not as genuine in there aim. For example the magnacarter was written at a time when the King of England was having to make concessions for money and power so is more obtuse and less genuine. People quote the magna carter as being the UK “constitution” it is true that there is a great deal in there about the running of the country and some founding principles in there that form the basis to the US constitution and there are some rights explicit that the king no longer has according to the magna carter

South Africa

A quick google search found that South Africas’s constitution is though of as being really good by a number of websites. I don’t like it its too long and it has one huge problem

36. Limitation of rights

  1. The rights in the Bill of Rights may be limited only in terms of law of general application to the extent that the limitation is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom, taking into account all relevant factors, including ­
    1. the nature of the right;
    2. the importance of the purpose of the limitation;
    3. the nature and extent of the limitation;
    4. the relation between the limitation and its purpose; and
    5. less restrictive means to achieve the purpose.

What this means is that any items in the African constitution can be overruled by a new law. So the US the constitution states that the constitution overalls any future law.

Germany

After WW2 the German constitution was developed in part to prevent another totalitarian regime. As a result it is has a number of items that limit government power. However its a bit long and does have the same thorough protection of rights in the document below are a few items I found interesting on my persusal

Article 8

(2) With regard to open-air meetings this right may be restricted by or pursuant to a law.
(3) Art and science, research and teaching are free. Freedom of teaching does not absolve from loyalty to the constitution.
Article 7 (Education). (1) The entire education system is under the supervision of the state.
Article 15 (Socialization). Land, natural resources and means of production may for the purpose of socialization be transferred into public ownership or other forms of publicly controlled economy by a law which provides for kind and extent of the compensation. With respect to such compensation Article 14, para. 3, sentences 3 and 4, apply mutatis mutandis.
(2) No German may be extradited to a foreign country. Persons persecuted for political reasons enjoy the right of asylum
Article 26 (Ban on preparing a war of aggression) (1) Activities tending and undertaken with the intent to disturb peaceful relations between nations, especially to prepare for aggressive war, are unconstitutional. They shall be made a punishable offense.


Comments

  1. Jeremy burrows
    February 11, 2013

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    Some very good points Paul. You should read a book called “Crimes against humanity” by Geoffrey Robertson regarding the un and the declaration of human rights. A few points about your argument: the universal declaration of human rights is not a constitution which is a legally binding document so does not really fit in with the whole constitution comparison. With South African constitution what’s the point if it can be rescinded with one act of parliament I ask. Comparing the American and German constitutions is interesting, polar opposites in terms of the role of federal government, controlling education makes controlling the population alot easier. It’s interesting that the English in reality don’t have a proper constitution but probably have committed less crimes against their own population then the others you talk about – England may have a bill of rights desperate to the magma carter (not sure about that). In this day and age with the information super highway all bill of rights/constitutions are worthless unless they enshrine the right to privacy.

    • Paul
      February 13, 2013

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      On the your point about ” the universal declaration of human rights is not a constitution which is a legally binding document so does not really fit in with the whole constitution comparison.” I agree it is in a different category however i believe the the trend for power that can be seen is for power to centralize. (As has happened extensively over the last 100 years) and as power accumulates centrally it I believe it will become more important over time It allready has significant power in shaping national legislation.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Declaration_of_Human_Rights#Legal_effect

      On the English constitution. Englad does not have a bill of rights – just the magna carter. On your last comment about privacy I agree. The US constitution has that allowance and although privacy is not mentioned it is implied by a number of other rights (and the US Supreme court has upheld this principle). So much of US surveillance is no constitutional. The US presidents and the US armed forces swear ….”that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States” . This is something they are clearly not doing. According the US law this is enough grounds for impeachment.

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