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How Separation of Powers operates in a Parliamentary system of Government

The meaning of the doctrine of separation of powers
The concept of Separation of Powers was propounded by Baron de Montesquieu. It states that the three arms of government – the Legislature, Executive and the judiciary - must be separate and independent in terms of personnel, functions and powers. In other words, the personnel in the legislative arm of government must not be the same as those in the executive or the judicial arm of government. Also the members of the legislature must not have the same functions and powers as those in both the executive and the judiciary.

What is a parliamentary system of government?
The parliamentary system of government refers to the system where the three arms of government, that is, the executive, legislature and the judiciary are fused into one in the performance of the functions. In this system, the members of the executive are at the same time members of the legislature. Also the highest court of the land is part of the legislature – the House of Lords. This has since been amended though.

Separation in institution
The three arms of government are separate in terms of institution. The judiciary, as an institution, is different from the executive and the legislature. They may even be housed in different locations or buildings.

Separation in personnel
The members of the executive are all members of the legislature. In fact, the head of the executive is the leader of the majority party in the legislature. Some of the members of the legislature are also members of the judiciary. For example, in Britain, the Lord Chancellor is a member of both the legislature and the executive in spite of the fact that he is the head of the judiciary.

Executive as initiator of bills
In the parliamentary system, it is the cabinet that initiates bills before the bills are sent into the legislature. By the time the bills get to the parliament, they may have been well thought through and therefore there is not much to do before the bills are passed. Even if it becomes difficult, the executive has majority in parliament so it can force the bill to go through.

Court of Appeal
In the past, the highest court of the land was the House of Lords. Though the House of Lords was the second chamber of the legislature, it was at the same time the Court of Appeal. This has since changed. Today, there is a Supreme Court separate from the House of Lords.

Collective responsibility
The members of the executive, that is the cabinet, are as a bloc responsible to the legislature for every action they take in the performance of their duties. The only way a cabinet member can absolve him or herself of blame is when a decision is made in cabinet is to resign. Once he or she does resign, he is bound by every decision that is made.

1. a. What is separation of powers? [2 marks]
    b. Highlight five ways in which separation of powers operates in a parliamentary system of government. [10 marks]

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