Bryce makes reference to distinction between flexible and rigid constitutions. This distinction has a strong bearing on the mode of amendment of the constitution. The opinion had been lobbied by Dicey that, a flexible constitution is that under which every description can legally be changed with the same ease and in the same manner and same body.

This approach is supported by Hood Phillips who adds that the flexibility of the British Constitution is a corollary to the fact that no written constitution or higher law is binding on the Parliament. As would be seen later, it is not only written constitutions that possess the flexible quality. To emphasize this point, Bryce cites the example of Singapore whose constitution is written but is entirely flexible and the constitutions of the Australian States which are written and largely flexible. A look at the Nigerian Constitution will show that the Constitution is written and flexible. This is because the Constitution provides for modes of altering it, though streamlined and intricate as contained in section 9.

Whether a written constitution is flexible or rigid depends on how easy or otherwise it is to amend. It is however a common saying that the main fundamental attribute of a written constitution is rigidity, that is, it cannot be changed, amended or repealed like an ordinary enactment. This view tends to ignore the fact that there could be a written but flexible constitution which allows for easy amendment as the need may arise like a constitution for a colonized community; for example, the Nigerian Constitutions of 1922, 1946 and 1951. They could all not only be amended at will by the colonial power, but also abrogated just like the Military did to the 1963 Republican constitution in January 1966 and the 1979 Constitution in January 1984. Dicey has said that a rigid constitution is “one under which certain laws generally known as Constitutional or fundamental laws cannot be changed in the same manner as ordinary laws”. The Nigerian Constitution cited above partially belies Dicey’s definitions of Rigid and Flexible Constitution. A more complete reaction to Dicey’s view in this matter is provided by Hood Phillips when he said inter alia that: “A more significant classification of the types of constitution is that into ‘flexible’ and ‘rigid’ metaphors given currency by Bryce…Unwritten Constitutions are in practice flexible, but written constitutions are not necessarily rigid.…” It is perhaps better to describe each constitution according to its wording rather than give a broad classification of written and unwritten to determine the rigidity or flexibility of a constitution.


In conclusion, it is only safe to admit that any Constitution can only be considered in entirety by its whole text to know the category it fits into. There cannot be any straight jacket rule for written and unwritten constitutions in terms of flexibility or rigidity.


In this unit, you learnt about the constitution and the various categories it can be classified into. You should by now be able to define the constitution and explain its various classifications.


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Flexible and Rigid Constitutions

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