Constitutions and Bills of Rights: Invigorating or Placating Democracy?

Brian Christopher Jones (Lead / Corresponding author)

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Champions of constitutions and bills of rights regularly portray them as possessing significant, sometimes mysterious, powers. One characterisation is that newly implemented constitutions may invigorate a democracy, particularly at the ballot box. This paper challenges that notion by scrutinising a relatively unexplored area of constitutional performance: Voter turnout. In particular, it examines a number of jurisdictions that have recently implemented constitutions and bill of rights, finding that in many of them, voter turnout decreased after passage, sometimes significantly. As the argument for a codified British constitution endures, the findings of this paper provide provisional evidence that those advocating for such a device should be wary of touting its potentially invigorating democratic effects. Ultimately, however, the paper calls for more research into the area of constitutions and democratic performance, such as voter turnout.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)339-359
Number of pages21
JournalLegal Studies: the Journal of the Society of Legal Scholars
Issue number3
Early online date21 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2018


  • constitutions
  • bills of rights
  • voting
  • democracy
  • voting turnout
  • Written constitution
  • Unwritten Constitution
  • HRA 1998
  • democracy-hindering
  • democracy-reinforcing
  • constitutional theory
  • democratic participation


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