Checks and Balances: Parliamentary System of Government
The theory of checks and balances emphasises the power of any of the organs checking the activities of the others. For example the ability of the executive, legislature or judiciary, checking the activities of one another.
It enhances fairplay, balance of power and it removes the tendency of misuse of power by any of the organs. The principle of checks and balances is seen as one of the arguments in favour of separation of powers.
Checks and Balances under Cabinet / Parliamentary Government
The principle of checks and balances is not well developed under the cabinet system of government largely because the three branches of government perform overlapping functions, and are so interconnected that it is diflicult to separate one from the other.
As said before, the Lord Chancellor in Britain straddles the three arms of government. As such, the three arms of government are more or less one, and cannot, in reality, exercise effective control over one another. This problem is further compounded by the fact that the courts are constitutionally subordinate to parliament under the principle of parliamentary supremacy.
In spite of all this, there are still a few instances of checks and balances in the parliamentary system.
- The legislature exercises some control, though indirect, on the executive through its various procedures including the use of select committees. It can also control the delegated legislation being made by the executive. But the effectiveness of this legislative control is questionable because parliament has little time to scrutinize these numerous rules. On the other hand, ministers who are also elected members of parliament control the law-making business in parliament especially by initiating bills and controlling the procedures in the house.
- The parliament can pass a vote of no coniidence in the government and can therefore bring the government down. Conversely, the executive can dissolve the legislature. By so doing, both organs of government can check the activities of each other.
- Legislative power is shared between two houses, namely, the lower house and the upper house. The upper house (Senate “USA” or House of Lords “Britain“) serves as a check on the lower house, which though sometimes more radical and representative than the Senate, usually exhibits undue radicalism in law-making.
- Even the lower house is itself not monolithic. It has both the government and opposition benches. This ensures that government policies and programmes are subjected to rigorous scrutiny and criticism by the opposition. Through such criticism, public opinion is aroused and the government may be forced to drop unpopular policies. Thus, the opposition serves as a powerful check on the government.
- Executive power is not in the hands of one man but shared among the ministers. The King or President (as the case may be) also has a great influence on the running of government.