A System of Checks and Balances

From democracy-handbook.org
Jump to: navigation, search

What does "tripartion" of power mean? The three branches of government are independent, but what does it actually mean and how is it ensured in practice?

There is no one unique solution, and it therefore varies from country to country.

The government and parliament

In Denmark, the legislature and the executive power are closely linked. Not only are ministers chosen primarily from among members of parliament, but the country's constitution is also somewhat imprecise in this respect. As a result, this gives the Danish government more power than in many other countries. But since Denmark often has minority coalition governments, the parliament still controls the government.

In Norway one cannot be a member of parliament, an MP, and a minister at the same time. If an MP is appointed to be a minister, somebody else must take his seat in parliament.

In the United States the President himself chooses his ministers and they are rarely selected from among the members of congress. In return, the Senate must approve the ministers and thus some balance is re-established.


There are significant differences in national traditions regarding the independence of the courts from parliament and government. In many countries judges are traditionally selected from among lawyers and university professors of law.

In Denmark, the government cannot appoint or dismiss judges. An independent council of judges, the Appointment Council, recommends new judges to the Minister of Justice, and the Queen makes the formal appointment. In the main, officials from the Ministry of Justice are appointed as judges.

In Sweden, an independent Council of Judges makes a proposal to the government on who should become a judge. Lawyers who have worked within the judicial system are mainly appointed as judges.

In the United States the President nominates judges, but they must be approved by a majority in the Senate. Often members of the President's party in the Senate or House of Representatives propose who should be nominated.

The balance of power

The three branches of government monitor one another, but their options may vary from country to country. Typically, the courts or a special constitutional court ensures that parliament does not pass unconstitutional laws.

Parliament supports the courts through legislation and financial allocations, and may question the actions of ministers and thereby keep an eye on the government.

In countries with electoral periods that are not predetermined and where a minority government is in power, parliament can overturn the government by a vote of no confidence. In return, in the case of political deadlock, the government may call for a general election and thereby perhaps get a new parliament. A balance of power is thus maintained between parliament and government.

Next chapter: Constitutional Court, Administrative Court, The Legislature’s Ombudsman