What Is Ministerial Responsibility?

ministerial-responsibility Credit: CEZARY ZAREBSKI PHOTOGRPAHY/Moment/Getty Images

Ministerial responsibility is an oath taken by ministers that makes them accountable to the parliament. It is a constitutional duty found in the British and Canadian parliaments.

Ministerial responsibility is an idea that dates back to the 17th century under the Stuart reign. It was a mechanism that parliament members used to assign blame to ministers but not directly criticize the king. This was predicated on the idea that the king was above reproach and should not be condemned.

Each minister who becomes a member of the Privy Council is obligated to take the oath. These ministers are also known as ministers of the crown, and they have an individual and collective duty to the parliamentary system. Collective obligation means that ministers are obligated to follow the will of the cabinet regardless of their input in the decision-making process. Collective responsibility forces all ministers to project a united front, and they must speak as one when addressing the parliament.

Individual obligation compels ministers to take blame for individual conduct and behaviors exhibited by departments or agencies that work under the ministry, including individual civil servants. The minister must correct any transgressions, issue an apology and resign from the cabinet if necessary. Ministers are liable for the actions of subordinates, but they are not blamed on a personal level.