The executive and the civil service

The following Public Law practice note provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • The executive and the civil service
  • What is a civil servant?
  • Government departments
  • Executive agencies
  • Non-ministerial departments
  • Ministerial management of the civil service
  • Civil service code
  • The Carltona principle
  • Special advisers
  • Official secrets

The executive and the civil service

What is a civil servant?

A civil servant is any permanent, non-political employee of central government—servants of the Crown, apart from members of the armed forces. The civil service consists of the Home Civil Service, and the Diplomatic Service. It does not include:

  1. judges

  2. police officers, who hold independent offices

  3. employees of Parliament, who do not serve the government

  4. local government employees

  5. NHS employees

  6. ministers, who serve in a political role

In practical terms, a civil servant is someone employed by a government department.

Government departments

Much of work of the executive is carried out by government departments, such as the Home Office, or the Department for Work and Pensions, headed by ministers but staffed by civil servants. The most senior civil servant in a department is called the Permanent Secretary.

Government departments do not have a legal personality of their own. They are aspects of the Crown, but can sue and be sued under the Crown Proceedings Act 1947. A civil servant is regarded as having a contract of employment with his or her department.

Executive agencies

An executive agency is a part of a government department which is treated as a separate unit for managerial purposes. It has no formally separate existence or personality; simply an identity for presentational purposes. An agency is typically headed by a Chief Executive who reports to ministers. For

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