Transitional Constitutionalism versus the Rule of Law?

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Author: Wojciech Sadurski

DOI: 10.21128/1812-7126-2016-3-13-28

Keywords: constitution-making; decommunisation; lustration; rule of law; statutes of limitation; transitional constitutionalism


This article considers some of the features of post-communist transitional constitutionalism, and identify those characteristics which are undisputedly contrary to the rule of law in contemporary democratic constitutional orders. Some aspects of transitional constitutionalism’s “past-orientedness” are in a strong tension with the rule of law. First, by establishing a legally protected orthodoxy about the past the law abandons the function of an impartial umpire, and abdicates the aspiration to generality which is one of the main precepts of the rule of law. Second, by suspending statutes of limitations for crimes which went unpunished due to political motivations – transitional constitutionalism aligns itself with the community’s morality but is likely to offend against the precept of lex retro non agit. Third, by applying various measures of removing members of the old elite, transitional constitutionalism is liable to offend against another cherished principle of the rule of law, nullum crimen, nulla poena sine lege. The article also argues that A device of “transitory constitutional arrangements”, sometimes used in transitional constitutionalism, is incompatible with the rule of law’s requirement of certainty, stability and relative unchangeability of constitutional law. By offending against this principle, transitory constitutional arrangements close the gap between an unentrenched and relatively stable constitutional order and legislative order, thus undermining an important distinction between the fundamental rule of the (constitutional) game and political-legislative decisions taken within that framework.

About the author: Wojciech Sadurski – Challis Professor of Jurisprudence, University of Sydney; Professor in the Centre for Europe, University of Warsaw.

Citation: Sadurski W. (2016) Konstitutsionalism perekhodnogo perioda protiv ver­khovenstva prava? [Transitional Constitutionalism versus the Rule of Law?]. Sravnitel'noe konstitutsionnoe obozrenie, no.3, pp.13–28. (In Russian).


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