UK central government has lost is power upwards to the European Union and other international organisations, and downwards to more localised institutions. This represents a major challenge to established means of constitutional accountabilit

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‘UK central government has lost is power upwards to the European Union and other international organisations, and downwards to more localised institutions.  This represents a major challenge to established means of constitutional accountability’. Discuss

In a 1995 report chaired by Lord Nolan, accountability was identified as one of the “Seven Principles of Public Life,” applicable in all areas; the public can be confident in electing an administration, only if they can be confident that it is accountable for its actions. Can one still be sure of the accountability of the Government?


English and Welsh law provides that a general election take place every five years, a notion which holds democracy and accountability together. An unpopular government will govern for a maximum of five years before being held to account for their actions by virtue of their success in a general election. It is insufficient however that Government only is accountable every five years, for both the public and for government itself. The people have a right to ensure that they are not subject to arbitrary government for that period, and government have greater chance of success in subsequent campaigns if they are able to hold onto public support. The role of maintaining executive accountability between elections is shared. Parliament, the courts and the media all play crucial roles in keeping Government in check.

The Courts ensure legal accountability. By means of judicial review, the courts can prevent, to use Lord Diplock’s terminology, “illegality”, “irrationality” and “procedural impropriety” in legislation.

Parliament, together with the massive influence of the media, ensures accountability by political means. Tomkins explains that:

“It is fundamental to English public law that the Crown’s government may continue in office only for so long as it enjoys majority support in the House of Commons. As soon as such support is withdrawn the Government must either resign or seek immediate dissolution of Parliament...”

Parliament’s role in ensuring accountability is far wider reaching however than a simple popularity contest, it ensures a continuing scrutiny of Government’s work, and theoretically, of individual minister’s work.

Political accountability “is delivered through the convention of ministerial responsibility,” a convention based on two responsibilities which are laid out in the Ministerial Code, “a guide to principles and practices expected of ministers.” The first of these responsibilities, known as Collective Responsibility,

“...requires that ministers should be able to express their views frankly in the expectation that they can argue freely in public, while maintaining a united front once decisions have been reached.

Collective responsibility began as a protectionist idea used by early parliamentarians to protect individuals from the King, if a united front was shown, then no individual could be blamed for an unpopular policy. Today its purpose has changed; it now states that any minister must be prepared to defend party policy in Parliament, and support t wholly, through word and vote. This has a variety of effects, including one of ensuring executive dominance in the House. Relevant to accountability however, it ensures that Parliament is aware of what Government policy is, and prevents ‘buck-passing.’ The convention, however, detracts from necessary openness, another of the Nolan Report’s seven principles. The convention hides governmental debate and decision making process from Parliament; how can Parliament call Government to account for poor internal processes if they cannot see them? Instead Parliament must work off targets, and whether or not those targets are achieved, as discussed below.

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The second responsibility is the notion of Individual Responsibility, which impresses on a Minister a wide range of responsibilities. According to Individual Responsibility, a Minister is accountable for:

  1. His or her own policies, decisions and actions
  2. His or her private life
  3. The actions and decisions taken within his or her department

The first two categories are very easily understood and demonstrated. Take for example Edwina Currie; whilst working as a junior Health Minister in 1988, Mrs Currie made public comments about the level of salmonella infection in British eggs. As a result a slump ...

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