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Chapter

Cover Public Law Directions

4. How the UK is organised  

This chapter details how power is allocated in the UK, and its organisation in terms of devolution and regional and local government. Power in the UK is divided into three branches or arms of state: legislature (law-makers), executive (government and administration), and judiciary (courts and judges). Before devolution, the government’s (executive’s) administrative power was centralised and it extended to the whole of the UK, but devolution has made significant changes to the constitution and has brought a substantial rebalancing of power in the government of the UK. Since devolution’s introduction, the power of central government no longer extends to the growing areas of domestic policy that have been devolved to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The UK government’s remit therefore now covers England and the whole of the UK on non-devolved matters including the conduct of foreign affairs, defence, national security, and oversight of the Civil Service and government agencies.

Chapter

Cover Public Law

7. Central government  

This chapter examines the structure and role of central government, with the latter part focusing on the key constitutional requirement that the government is accountable to the people through Parliament, reflecting the democratic nature of the constitution. The phrase ‘central government’ refers to the Prime Minister, Cabinet, ministers, government departments, and civil servants. Informally, these parts of central government are often referred to as ‘Whitehall’, reflecting how most government departments and the Prime Minister are based around that area of central London close to Westminster. A more constitutionally appropriate phrase is the ‘executive’. However, this term can also be taken to mean other elements which include the governments of Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales, as well as local government and organizations such as the police.

Chapter

Cover Public Law Directions

12. The executive  

This chapter discusses the executive, the administrative branch of government which creates and executes policy, and implements laws. It specifically focuses on the organisation of central government in the UK. Central government in the UK carries out day-to-day administration in relation to England and the whole of the UK on non-devolved matters. Its functions include the conduct of foreign affairs, defence, national security, and oversight of the Civil Service and government agencies. Central government essentially consists of the government and Civil Service but modern government is extensive, multi-layered, and complex. The chapter then studies the sources of ministerial power. Ministers’ legal authority to act can derive from statute, common law, or royal prerogative. The royal prerogative is a source of power which is ‘only available for a case not covered by statute’.

Chapter

Cover Administrative Law

5. Retention of Discretion  

Mark Elliott and Jason Varuhas

This chapter discusses the principles of administrative law which require decision-makers to retain the discretion which they are granted. It first considers the question of delegation of discretionary powers as well as the non-delegation principle before explaining the nature of delegation. It then examines the courts' approach with respect to departmental decision-making in central government and how far the discretionary freedom of the decision-maker designated by statute may be constrained by delegation and the adoption of policies. It also shows why it is often desirable or even necessary for decision-makers to exercise their discretion in line with a policy or a set of criteria. Finally, it looks at judicial moves towards ensuring that exercise of discretion is structured and legally constrained by publicly available policy. A number of relevant cases are cited throughout the chapter, including Barnard v. National Dock Labour Board [1953] 2 QB 18.