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Ministerial responsibility

In the course of their duties, Government Ministers in the United Kingdom exercise powers granted to them by means of statute, prerogative authority and debatably “general widespread law powers that enable for residual powers exactly where their actions will have no legal consequence for others”. Ministerial duty defines the relationships between ministers and Parliament as properly as that amongst ministers and civil servants in their departments. In the United Kingdom, this connection is not regulated by statute, but rather operates below constitutional convention. This guidance has grow to be formalized in the Ministerial Code, 1st issued by Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1997 and subsequently re-issued by the Prime Minister at the beginning of every new administration. (Grey, O, Person Ministerial Accountability, SN/Pc/06467, 2012)

In the same year that the Ministerial Code was first issued, both houses of parliament agreed resolutions on ministerial accountability which state that ministers have a duty to Parliament to account and to be held to account for the policies, decisions and actions of their departments and executive agencies. The adoption of the resolutions was significant in altering the doctrine of ministerial duty to parliament from an unwritten constitutional convention to a clear parliamentary rule which can only be modified by parliament.

Whist it is needed to view the notion of ministerial accountability as a whole in terms of overall accountability to the electorate, it is essential to distinguish among the two facets of ministerial responsibility – collective and individual.

COLLECTIVE Duty


Collective ministerial duty entails all ministers presenting a united front in the interest of government unity. Members of cabinet must publicly help all governmental choices produced in cabinet even if they privately do not agree with them. This calls for that once a choice has been made in cabinet, all ministers need to publicly help and defend it. Where ministers can not reconcile their private beliefs with cabinet decision, they are expected to resign, for instance Robin Cook resigned over the choice to invade Iraq in 2003. Whilst opinions may possibly be debated freely in private, internal processes are not disclosed and have to stay confidential.

In the Crossman Diaries case in 1975, the Attorney Basic sought to suppress the memoirs of a deceased cabinet minister by arguing that such a breach of confidentiality would undermine the constitutional principle of collective duty and inhibit cabinet ministers from speaking frankly. This argument is in line with the view of Vernon Bogdan or who states that “collective cabinet duty is political prudence as much as a convention”.

Prime Minister can suspend this convention in relation to a especially controversial choice over which government is undecided.

Individual Responsibility


Ministers have a duty to account and be held to account for the policies and choices and actions of their departments and agencies. This is recognized as individual ministerial responsibility and is laid down in the Ministerial Code (last updated Dec 2016). Ministerial duty for all aspects of their departments company is vital principle underlying the arrangements that allow parliament to effectively perform its function of holding government to account.

Ministers are reliant on civil servants to execute their functions. Testimony to the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee highlighted that a strong and politically impartial civil service is a constitutional check on potent executive. The thought of ministers possessing greater reliance on the civil service to perform their functions was first outlined in the Haldane Report in 1918. In the seminal case of Carltona v Commissioner of Operates [1943] two All ER 560 (CA) Lord Greene stated that “the duties imposed on ministers and the powers provided to ministers are generally exercised beneath the authority of ministers by responsible officials of the division. Public enterprise could not be carried on if that had been not the case”.

Nonetheless, this higher reliance on civil servants has triggered the lines of individual ministerial accountability to turn into blurred due to the “complexity of modern day government” (Gay, O, 2004). At the time of the Haldane Report, there had been only 28 civil servants in the Residence Office. There are now more than 3400 (Ibid) which tends to make the classic allocation of full accountability to ministers more problematic. A clear indication of this blurring of lines can be seen by contrasting the Crichel Down affair in 1954 exactly where the minister resigned soon after a damning report of the actions of these acting for government, with the case in 1996, where the House Secretary, Michael Howard, refused to resign more than the overall performance of the Prison Service (House of Commons Analysis Paper 04/31: Individual Ministerial Duty- Concerns and Examples). Howard argued that ministers must be accountable for choices which they have taken and civil servants should be responsible for decisions which they have taken. This view is more prevalent right now than it was in preceding years.

It is important to note that civil servants give proof under direction and on behalf of ministers. The Osmotherley guidelines (a convention never ever formally authorized by Parliament) say they should be as open and transparent as feasible as greater transparency is required about who produced a selection ahead of full separation in between ministerial and civil service accountability can be achieved. Testimony needs to be precise and truthful in accordance with statutes including Freedom of Data Act 2000.

According to a report on Ministerial Accountability and Responsibility, it is not attainable to distinguish absolutely locations of private liability from places of constitutional accountability (Ministerial Accountability and Responsibility, HC, 313-I) specially as operational concerns are increasingly delegated to agencies. Choose committees now hold hearings far more often with greater scrutiny getting placed on Ministers and civil servants. However, the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 gives in S3.6 that the Minister for the Civil Service should make certain that civil servants who advise Ministers are conscious of the constitutional significance of Parliament and of conventions that govern the connection in between Parliament and Government.

Responsibility V ACCOUNTABILITY


Although Lord Howard argued in 1997 that there is a difference amongst duty and accountability, ministerial duty is central to the Westminster technique as it guarantees the accountability of government to parliament and ultimately to the electorate.Its significance can also be highlighted by the reality that ministerial prerogatives incorporate taking choices on armed conflicts and international treaties (Taming the Prerogative, Strengthening Ministerial Accountability to Parliament -Property of Commons Public Admin Select Committee Report, 2004). These ministerial powers are not located in statute, but rather flow from the ancient prerogative of the crown (Dicey).

“However the distinction between responsibility and accountability has been contested by academics such as Matthew Flinders who has commented that it is ‘confusing and ambiguous as to the requirements of ministerial duty exactly where operational fault is concerned’24 and by the Public Solutions Committee which created the criticism that ‘It is not attainable completely to distinguish an area in which a minister is personally accountable, and liable to take the blame, from a single in which he is constitutionally accountable’.” (House of Commons Investigation Paper 04/31: Person Ministerial Responsibility- Issues and Examples).

The value of accountability can't be underemphasized as parliament is supposed to hold government in check. Nevertheless, an rising quantity of laws are created by delegated legislation with minimal parliamentary scrutiny. The United Kingdom does not have the constraint of a constitutional court.

Signifies BY WHICH ENFORCED


The Ministerial Guidelines state that Ministers hold office as long as they hold the confidence pf the Prime Minister. Accountability demands public authorities to be justify their choices and actions. Sanctions consist of censure and dismissal. This is succinctly place in a Canadian Parliamentary paper that states that by ministers becoming known as upon to “explain and defend the actions of their departments…it is the loss of political reputation, rather than the loss of a job, that puts the bite into the doctrine of ministerial responsibility”. (Suggestions-35E November 29, 2000 – Library of Parliament for Canada, Ministerial Duty)
No constitutional diff between accountability and duty?
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