Posted by / Tuesday 5 July 2016 / No comments

The features and functions of constitutional conventions

Conventions refer to unwritten and non-legal rules which are observed in a state. Though they are not written rules, they are observed as if they were. Conventions cannot be enforced in the courts of law if they are violated. For example, in Britain, the Leader of the Majority Party in Parliament becomes the Prime Minister and Parliament must meet at least once in a year. These two conventions are not written rules or rules which can be enforced by the law courts in Britain, yet they are observed as if they were written laws.

A Convention is not a law
Conventions not found in a written constitution or any statute book or even an Act of Parliament. The term ‘constitutional convention’ should, therefore, not be misconstrued to mean that conventions are constitutional provisions.

They are unwritten rules
Conventions are not written rules. However, they have been observed over a long period of time to a point where they have become part of the accepted traditions for the governance of a state. They cannot be enforced in the law court.

A source of unwritten constitutions
They are mainly identified with an unwritten constitution and unwritten constitutions are mainly practiced under the British constitution. In other words, they are a major source or feature of the unwritten constitution.

Enables the government to function smoothly
Conventions promote a smooth relationship between the government and Parliament in a Parliamentary system of government. This is so because the convention that the leader of the majority party in Parliament must become the Prime Minister, or that the Prime Minister must recruit his cabinet Ministers from the Majority party in Parliament ensures that at all times, the Prime Minister and his Cabinet would have the support of the majority in Parliament.

Conventions ensure efficiency
Another function of conventions is that it ensures the efficiency of Government. For example, there is a convention in Britain that Parliament can pass a vote of no confidence in the Cabinet and the Cabinet must resign as a group. As a result, the Cabinet works hard and efficiently, so that the legislature does not pass a vote of “no confidence” in it.

Prevents government machinery from grinding to a halt
It is true that conventions are not legally enforceable; however, the violation of some conventions can spell doom for the country than the violation of written constitutions. In Britain, there is a convention that parliament must meet at least once a year. If this does not happen, the budget cannot b can be granted government departments, taxes cannot be levied, etc and therefore government machinery could grind to a halt.

Serves as a source for some written constitutions
Most of the conventions under the British Constitution have found their way into the written constitutions of other countries. For example, the 1969 constitution of Ghana provided that the leader of the majority party in parliament must be the Prime Minister and that he must recruit his ministers from parliament. These are conventions which the framers of the 1969 constitution borrowed from the unwritten constitution of Ghana.

Useful under a written constitution
Conventions have been found to be useful in a written constitution. In the American constitution, for example, there is nothing in the constitution on the about the party system, though it is a written constitution. Their party system is governed by conventions.

Useful in day-to-day operation
Conventions are very useful in the day-to-day administration of institutions that have been established by the written constitution of a state. This is so because, though such institutions are established by a written constitution, the institutions may apply conventional rules in their day-to-day operations.

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