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Broadbent: Public Law Directions

Chapter 5

1. Who are the members of the executive?

The political members of the executive are those Members of Parliament holding ministerial office. They are assisted by the civil service. This arrangement is replicated in devolved and local government.

2. What mechanisms exist to prevent abuses of power by the executive?

Think about ways of challenging the government both through the courts as well as in Parliament. In the courts there are the processes of judicial review relating to the exercise of statutory powers, or an action for damages w here t he executive commits, for example, a breach of contract or a tort.  Parliament has a number of mechanisms designed to subject the executive to scrutiny, including questions, committees, votes, debates etc.

3. What is the nature of the relationship between ministers and their civil servants?

Ministers are politically accountable for the actions of their civil servants who are generally immune from the political process, although in recent years ministers have been more ready to refuse to resign where the failing is one caused by the civil service.

4. In what ways are ministers accountable for what they do?

Accountability occurs largely through the conventions of ministerial responsibility. They are accountable to Parliament as members of the government under the idea of collective responsibility. They are also individually responsible to Parliament for both their personal conduct and the conduct of their department.

5. What powers are available to the executive?

Under the idea of the rule of law the executive can only exercise powers given to it by law, either in the form of statutory powers or of powers exercisable under the royal prerogative at common law. There will be issues relating to the extent and nature of those powers which the courts may determine.  There may also be issues as to whether the government is acting constitutionally which, unless it involves a breach of law, is largely the province of Parliament.