This article on ‘Accountability and Constitutionalism’ is written by an intern at Legal Upanishad.
“Accountability breeds response-ability” – Stephen R. Covey. This quote can best explain the concept of accountability which means that a person is accountable or responsible to his actions. Constitutionalism is somewhat related to the concept of accountability in the way that constitutionalism means the government is vested with powers but they are limited in nature. It means that the government must act responsibly while acting on the powers vested to it. In this article, the researcher will be discussing that how the concept of accountability and constitutionalism are inter connected with each other or rather how constitutionalism is a form of accountability.
Meaning of Constitutionalism:
There is no one particular definition available for the term constitutionalism but one definition that helps in defining the concept of constitutionalism to accuracy is that a mixture of ideas, attitude and patterns of behaviour which elaborates the principle that the government derives its authority from a fundamental body of law and is also limited by that same body. The basic meaning that can be extracted from the above definition is that the government needs power to function and so it is vested with that power by a body but those powers are not unlimited and so they are kept in check by the same body which vests the government with the powers in the first place.
The eminent political scientist and constitutional scholar David Fellman described the concept of constitutionalism through these words: the touchstone of constitutionalism is the concept of limited government under a higher law. Thus, the concept of Constitutionalism states the need for a government whose powers are not absolute and unlimited in nature.
Features of Constitutionalism:
There are some features and elements which forms up the concept of constitutionalism, they are as follows:
- Independence of the Judiciary – The independence of the judiciary is very important to achieve constitutionalism because the judiciary acts as the protector of the rights of the citizens. This is done by keeping in check the use or abuse of powers by the government.
- Separation of Powers – Separation of powers is also a necessary element of constitutionalism because if all the power is vested into one hand then it would lead to a dictatorial set up because in case of abuse of those powers, there will be no one to keep it under check or rectify it.
- Supremacy of the Constitution and Rule of Law – The Constitution is the supreme law of the land because it defines the powers and rights of the government as well as the citizens and also the limitations to those powers and rights. The laws, laid down in the constitution, maintain these thus establishing rule of law. So, the supremacy of the Constitution becomes an essential element of constitutionalism.
- Representative Democracy – Democracy is when people elect their leaders who run the government. This helps in limiting the powers of the government and forms an essential element of constitutionalism.
Inter-relation between Accountability and Constitutionalism:
Accountability is the state of being accountable for any action. To describe this in simple words, accountability means to take the responsibility for any action caused. The concept of constitutionalism is very much related to accountability because constitutionalism means the government should be vested with limited powers, that is, the government should use the powers, vested with it, responsibly. Accountability is a broad concept.
Constitutionalism is a part of that concept. Taking liability or responsibility for an action is necessary for every individual being and they are answerable for such action caused. Constitutionalism is a political philosophy where the powers of the government are limited by laws. This makes the government responsible for any action caused by the abuse of powers and it is answerable for the same. As accountability depends on the conscience of a human, so is constitutionalism, because it is a philosophy, a spirit, which cannot be simply enforced by any written document.
Taking responsibility for any action cause helps in maintaining a peaceful state thereby reducing chaos and similarly constitutionalism helps in maintaining a democratic set up by not letting the government turn into a tyrannical set up. So, a similarity between the concept of accountability and constitutionalism can be seen here.
Significance of Constitutionalism:
Constitutionalism is necessary to maintain a democratic set up in the country. Constitutionalism ensures that the citizens of the country are given the primary importance and the government exist to safeguard the citizens and maintain a peaceful and harmonious society. This can be achieved when the powers vested with the government are kept in check, so that the government do not abuse it, which would create a despotic monarchy. These powers can be kept in check only with the help of laws.
The concept of constitution is born out of constitutionalism only because constitution, being a book of laws, use to keep check on the powers exercised by the government, is the whole concept of constitutionalism. But having a Constitution does not provide the guarantee of constitutionalism being achieved in a state. Constitution is a mere book. The adherence to the provisions of that book is what helps in achieving constitutionalism.
Constitutionalism in Indian Context:
The concept of constitutionalism is prevalent in the Indian context too. India has a democratic set up, that is, the citizens of India elect the leaders who represent the people in the government. The importance of the people as a whole can be traced from the very first line of the Preamble of the Constitution of India which states, “We the People of India….”.
The independence of the judiciary is also an integral part of the Indian political system and the judiciary has the power of judicial review, which is an essential ingredient for constitutionalism.
The powers in the governmental system have been divided into three heads, the Judiciary, the Legislative and the Executive and no one has the authority to interfere in the works of the other. This forms an integral part of constitutionalism.
It can be stated that accountability is the genus of which constitutionalism is a species. The concepts are very similar to each other and interconnected too.
- Preeti Goyal, Indian Constitutionalism, Legal Services India, http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/1479/Indian-Constitutionalism.html
- 2020, Constitution and Constitutionalism ; A Study Perspective in India, https://blog.ipleaders.in/constitution-constitutionalism-study-perspective-india/
- Legal Service India, Constitutionalism, http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/1699/Constitutionalism.html