Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter XI: THE RESPONSIBILITY OF MINISTERS - Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (LF ed.)
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Chapter XI: THE RESPONSIBILITY OF MINISTERS - Albert Venn Dicey, Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (LF ed.) 
Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution, ed. Roger E. Michener (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1982).
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THE RESPONSIBILITY OF MINISTERS
Ministerial responsibility.Ministerial responsibility means two utterly different things. It means in ordinary parlance the responsibility of Ministers to Parliament, or, the liability of Ministers to lose their offices if they cannot retain the confidence of the House of Commons.
This is a matter depending on the conventions of the constitution with which law has no direct concern.
It means, when used in its strict sense, the legal responsibility of every Minister for every act of the Crown in which he takes part.
This responsibility, which is a matter of law, rests on the following foundation. There is not to be found in the law of England, as there is found in most foreign constitutions, an explicit statement that the acts of the monarch must always be done through a Minister, and that all orders given by the Crown must, when expressed in writing, as they generally are, be countersigned by a Minister. Practically, however, the rule exists.
In order that an act of the Crown may be recognised as an expression of the Royal will and have any legal effect whatever, it must in general be done with the assent of, or through some Minister or Ministers who will be held responsible for it. For the Royal will can, speaking generally, be expressed only in one of three different ways, viz. (1) by order in Council; (2) by order, commission, or warrant under the sign-manual; (3) by proclamations, writs, patents, letters, or other documents under the Great Seal.
An order in Council is made by the King “by and with the advice of his Privy Council”; and those persons who are present at the meeting of the Council at which the order was made, bear the responsibility for what was there done. The sign-manual warrant, or other document to which the sign-manual is affixed, bears in general the countersignature of one responsible Minister or of more than one; though it is not unfrequently authenticated by some one of the seals for the use of which a Secretary of State is responsible. The Great Seal is affixed to a document on the responsibility of the Chancellor, and there may be other persons also, who, as well as the Chancellor, are made responsible for its being affixed. The result is that at least one Minister and often more must take part in, and therefore be responsible for, any act of the Crown which has any legal effect, e.g. the making of a grant, the giving of an order, or the signing of a treaty.1
The Minister or servant of the Crown who thus takes part in giving expression to the Royal will is legally responsible for the act in which he is concerned, and he cannot get rid of his liability by pleading that he acted in obedience to royal orders. Now supposing that the act done is illegal, the Minister concerned in it becomes at once liable to criminal or civil proceedings in a Court of Law. In some instances, it is true, the only legal mode in which his offence could be reached may be an impeachment. But an impeachment itself is a regular though unusual mode of legal procedure before a recognised tribunal, namely, the High Court of Parliament. Impeachments indeed may, though one took place as late as 1805, be thought now obsolete, but the cause why this mode of enforcing Ministerial responsibility is almost out of date is partly that Ministers are now rarely in a position where there is even a temptation to commit the sort of crimes for which impeachment is an appropriate remedy, and partly that the result aimed at by impeachment could now in many cases be better obtained by proceedings before an ordinary Court. The point, however, which should never be forgotten is this: it is now well-established law that the Crown can act only through Ministers and according to certain prescribed forms which absolutely require the co-operation of some Minister, such as a Secretary of State or the Lord Chancellor, who thereby becomes not only morally but legally responsible for the legality of the act in which he takes part. Hence, indirectly but surely, the action of every servant of the Crown, and therefore in effect of the Crown itself, is brought under the supremacy of the law of the land. Behind Parliamentary responsibility lies legal liability, and the acts of Ministers no less than the acts of subordinate officials are made subject to the rule of law.
On the whole of this subject the reader should consult Anson, Law and Custom of the Constitution, vol. ii., The Crown (3rd ed.), App. to ch. i. pp. 50–59. Anson gives by far the best and fullest account with which I am acquainted of the forms for the expression of the Royal pleasure and of the effect of these forms in enforcing the legal responsibility of Ministers. See also Clode, Military Forces of the Crown, ii. pp. 320, 321; Buron v. Denman, 2 Ex. 167,189, and the Great Seal Act, 2884,47 & 48 Vict. c. 30.