The Origins of Accountability: Everything I Know About the Sovereigns' Immunity, I Learned from King Henry Iii

99 Pages Posted: 18 Sep 2004

See all articles by Guy I. Seidman

Guy I. Seidman

Reichman University - Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliyah - Harry Radziner School of Law

Abstract

The article examines the Anglo-American origins of government accountability. American critics of sovereign immunity argue that the doctrine is an outdated relic of English monarchism of the dark ages and wholly inappropriate to American democracy. This is an inaccurate description. As early as the 13th century English law developed a host of legal doctrines that contained royal excesses and held the government legally accountable. Further developments occurred during the 17th century struggle between the King and Parliament. These substantive limits on government authority were familiar to the Founding Fathers in the crucial years when they were constructing the American republic through their knowledge of Blackstone's Commentaries.

While it is true that there were limits on the ability to sue the King, this was not because the people thought the King was above the law or had Divine Rights. Moreover, several legal mechanisms held the King and government ministers accountable. In the 13th century the Barons forced King John and his successors to sign Magna Carta. Furthermore, Parliament controlled royal spending and targeted royal agents through impeachment and the doctrine of ministerial responsibility. These doctrines were later used by Parliament in its successful struggle against the Stuarts and helped establish a governmental regime accountable to the people.

Suggested Citation

Seidman, Guy I., The Origins of Accountability: Everything I Know About the Sovereigns' Immunity, I Learned from King Henry Iii. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=592053

Guy I. Seidman (Contact Author)

Reichman University - Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliyah - Harry Radziner School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 167
Herzliya, 46150
Israel
972-9-952-7348 (Phone)

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