Constitutional Conventions and Citizens’ Assemblies: power to the people?

This House of Commons Library briefing paper describes the theory and practice of constitutional conventions and citizens' assemblies.

This briefing paper provides a summary of the theory and academic discussion behind the use of constitutional conventions and citizens’ assemblies. It also provides a concise history of constitutional conventions that have taken place in the British Isles and overseas, including the Scottish Constitutional Convention of 1989 and Irish Constitutional Convention of 2012. It also sets out the recent support for constitutional conventions in the UK, for example, the proposals made by the 2007-10 Brown government and the renewed interest in this form of deliberative democracy following the Scottish Independence referendum (2014).

This paper also summarises several, notable citizens’ assemblies that have taken place. This includes those that were held in Southampton and Sheffield in 2015 as a form of constitutional convention, and other assemblies which addressed specific policy areas such as adult social care and Brexit. This paper also provides information on several citizens’ assemblies that are currently taking place in the UK. Overseas examples of constitutional conventions are also addressed towards the end of this paper.

The House of Lords Library Note, Constitutional Conventions: Possible Options in the New Parliament (20 March 2016) sets out some of the key issues when a process of constitutional review of reform is being devised and briefly highlights examples of the different structures used. The Lords Library Note Citizens’ Assemblies: An Introductory Guide (8 February 2019) also provides detail on the theory and growth in support citizens’ assemblies have recently received in the UK.