Calling Regulators to Account: Challenges, Capacities and Prospects

39 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2012

See all articles by Julia Black

Julia Black

London School of Economics - Law School

Date Written: October 11, 2012


Since their inception, public lawyers and political scientists have fulminated at the lack of accountability of regulatory agencies. But, though it may surprise their critics, regulatory agencies do not go out of their way to be unaccountable. The difficulties of accountability, this article argues, lie in large part elsewhere: with the institutional position and accountability capacity of the accountors, and with the particular nature of the challenges that face them. The article focuses on developments in the roles of the four main accountors in the UK political domain in turn: the core executive, Parliament, the National Audit Office and consumer bodies, exploring their relationships both with the accountees (the regulators) and with other bodies which are calling those regulators to account. It examines their capacity to call regulators to account, and to meet the five core accountability challenges that face them: viz the scale and scope of the regulatory landscape, the number of organizations involved in any one regulatory domain, the complexity of their relationships and their propensity to blame-shift; the technical complexity and contestability of the regulatory task; the opacity of regulatory processes; and the willingness of the accountee to be called to account. These challenges produce deep-rooted tensions which are not easy to resolve, and create opportunities for blame- shifting which both accountors and accountees can, and do, seek to exploit. Moreover, the roles of accountors themselves are fluid, moving from accountor to participant to controller, bringing further complexity to the accountability relationship. However, it is the nature both of the relationship and the task of accountability that these tensions will exist, and it is right that they do, at least up to a point. For without those tensions both regulators and their accountors will become complacent, which will be to their detriment, as well as ours.

Suggested Citation

Black, Julia, Calling Regulators to Account: Challenges, Capacities and Prospects (October 11, 2012). LSE Legal Studies Working Paper No. 15/2012, Available at SSRN: or

Julia Black (Contact Author)

London School of Economics - Law School ( email )

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