[Editor’s Note: In this instalment of I•CONnect’s Book Review Series, Oran Doyle reviews The United Kingdom and the Federal Idea (Robert Schütze and Stephen Tierney eds., Hart Publishing 2018).]
–Oran Doyle, Trinity College Dublin; University of Pennsylvania
Laws do not exist as abstract disembodied propositions, akin to the axioms of geometry, but rather hold true in particular places at particular times. In a simple view of the post-colonial world, laws form the legal system of a state and have the same geographic extent as that state. But this picture is complicated by the laws of supranational or international organisations as well as by intra-state territorial differentiation.
Federalism, understood broadly, provides a conceptual framework that explains both how laws can a have different geographic dimension from the state and how different legal systems can apply in the same geographic area. Federal structures allow discrete political communities to be combined and/or recognised within a larger political entity. To prevent the larger political entity collapsing into a welter of competing and contradictory laws, however, some central authority must ensure the unity of the system as a whole. But the assertion of that authority may make the federal arrangements unacceptable to one or more of the discrete political communities.
The United Kingdom and the Federal Idea engages these issues with breadth, depth and rigour, in the exciting crucible of law and politics that is the UK Constitution. Ten thematic chapters, previously presented at a workshop in late 2015, are bookended by a thought-provoking Introduction and Conclusion, penned by Robert Schütze and David Armitage respectively. Although the UK is often characterised as devolutionary rather than federal, the contributors mostly adopt a less exacting account of federalism as, in Armitage’s words, ‘a family of ideas and practices’ (278) rather than specific institutional prescriptions.Read the rest of this entry…