In this edition of the "Crunching Concepts" series, we break down one of the bedrock principles of UK constitutional law - the separation of powers. Vital to maintaining democratic governance, it lies at the heart of the country's political and legal system.
What is the Separation of Powers?
The separation of powers is the principle that segregates the powers of state into distinct branches. In the UK, it dictates the functioning of the executive (the Prime Minister and the Cabinet), the legislature (Parliament), and the judiciary (courts). The doctrine prevents any single entity from monopolising power, thereby protecting citizens' liberty and rights.
Why is the Separation of Powers Important?
The significance of the Separation of Powers is manifold:
1. Serving as a safeguard against oppressive or arbitrary governance, it ensures each branch has separate roles and responsibilities, negating the possibility of unchecked power.
2. By spreading power among various to maintain a balanced system of government, this principle enables each division to work effectively and autonomously.
3. Preventing the misuse of power, each branch of government serves as a check on the activities of the other branches, thereby reinforcing a system of checks and balances.
Diving into cases on the Separation of Powers
Key landmark cases underpin the principle of separation of powers:
• R v Home Secretary ex parte FBU (1995): This case demonstrated the requirement for executive to get legislative approval for establishing new schemes, thereby upholding the power balance among branches.
• R (Jackson) v Attorney General (2005): This case triggered a nationwide debate on the vital balance of power within Parliament and the maintained respect for Separation of Powers.
• R (Miller) v The Prime Minister and Cherry v Advocate General for Scotland (2019): This case affirmed the constitutional powers of Parliament to scrutinise the executive's action. The Prime Minister's attempt to prorogue Parliament was ruled unlawful which highlighted the necessity of a checks and balances system.
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