The system of government in the United Kingdom (UK) is very different to many other countries.
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The system of government in the United Kingdom (UK) is very different to many other countries. There are only a few other countries besides the UK (New Zealand and Israel are the others) which do not have a 'written' constitution. Due to this lack of a written document the UK looks for its sources of constitution in (amongst other things) conventions. First, it may be necessary to define what we mean when we say that the UK does not have as such, a written constitution and whether this means that the UK has a constitution at all. This type of approach is known as abstract (as opposed to concrete) and many have attempted to define and justify that despite this the UK still has a constitution despite it not being in a written form. One such definition is that a constitution is: 'the whole system of government of a country, the collection of rules which establish and regulate or govern the government.'1 Judging from this definition it would appear that the UK does have a constitution, as a constitution does not necessarily have to be in a written form.
take on an even greater significance. This is because in the absence of any 'hard and fast' rules on how the UK should be governed they act as the 'next best thing'. One such convention is the convention of Ministerial Responsibility. There are two types of Ministerial Responsibility - collective and individual - for the purposes of this essay Individual Ministerial Responsibility will be looked at in depth. The convention of Ministerial Responsibility is central to the government as it re-enforces that ministers are expected to have 'honesty and incorruptibility'4 and the fact that ministers in addition to the government are also accountable to the general public. The convention of Individual Ministerial Responsibility is a very important (if complex) one. This is down to the fact that there are various factors which govern this convention, such as media involvement, the Prime Minister and the ministers' constituency. Individual Ministerial Responsibility basically means that a minister is accountable (to Parliament) not only for his/her personal conduct but also for the conduct of their department and any civil servants under their 'control'. A more precise definition was provided by Lord Morrison: '...a minister is accountable to Parliament for anything he or his department does or for anything he has the power to do, whether he does it or not.
Another aspect of conventions (particularly this one) is whether they limit State power. On the one hand, this convention makes ministers accountable to Parliament and to the general public who hold the 'real' power i.e. they decide who is in government. Also, it makes may make ministers 'think before they act' as this convention provides boundaries (if slightly blurred) as to what the State deems acceptable behaviour although these boundaries can be overcome if you have the support of the Prime Minister. However, on the other hand, only the Prime Minister can appoint and dismiss ministers, not the Queen who is the Head of (the) State, so this limits the power of the State quite considerable. In conclusion, there are two sides of the argument as to whether the convention of Individual Ministerial Responsibility but also (conventions in general) do act to limit State power. Ultimately, though it is not important that conventions limit State power what is far more important is that conventions 'work' (which they do) and do not undermine already established (legal) rules. In addition, conventions fill the 'political lacuna' left by the fact that the UK does not have a formal written constitution.
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