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Upholding the separation of powers

The challenge

Without clear boundaries between the three branches of government – parliament which makes laws, the executive which administers them, and the judiciary which adjudicates disputes – standards of accountability, transparency and integrity are difficult to uphold. Opportunities for poor governance and corruption can increase, limiting the rights of citizens.

As Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma said, ‘Every Commonwealth member must continuously pose itself the question: how well do we observe the separation of powers? Do our executives respect the freedom of the legislature and the judiciary to discharge their responsibilities?'

Commonwealth action

In 2003, acknowledging the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and three Commonwealth partner legal organisations in developing guidelines on the separation of powers, Heads of Government endorsed the Commonwealth Latimer House Principles on the Accountability of and the Relationship between the Three Branches of Government.

In order to advance the principles, in 2005 in Nairobi, a Plan of Action for Africa was adopted. In 2015, we published a Compendium on the Appointment, Tenure and Removal of Judges under Commonwealth Principles, providing detailed guidance on protecting judicial independence and preventing abuses of power. We also developed a Latimer House Principles Toolkit to help member countries apply the principles by formulating appropriate legislative and institutional policies.

The principles have led to the Commonwealth Secretariat providing practical support to our member countries to implement judicial and constitutional reforms. In Tonga, for example, we supported reforms that led to a strengthening of the separation of powers by making the judiciary more independent and distinct from the executive.

Global value

The Commonwealth Latimer House Principles have proved to be an effective framework for upholding our fundamental values, as set out in the Commonwealth Charter, and a foundation for our work to promote and uphold judicial independence.

Over the past decade, constitutional and judicial reforms enabled with Commonwealth support have improved relationships between the branches of government, and recourse to the principles has assisted in resolving impasses and tensions. Their application has helped to uphold the rule of law, democracy and good governance globally.