Accountability as a category of constitutional law

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Project funded by NCN, carried out from 24 January 2019 to 23 January 2021.

General information

Accountability is defined in simple and commonly known terms as the property of attributing certain actions to certain actors and their obligation to give an account of their behaviour, achievements and performance of duties.

In political science, the term is used to describe certain political relationships: between parliamentarians and party authorities, as well as voters, and ministers held accountable by parliament. However, accountability as a category used in constitutional law, in the sense familiar to political science, may lead to confusion with other categories such as constitutional accountability, political accountability, audit and control, and answerability in the electoral process. Yet at the same time, accountability may soon become one of the focal concepts in contemporary constitutionalism as a pivot of democracy, a relationship based on active participation in the exercise of power, control over the agenda of its actions and decisions, inclusiveness of the exercised power and real influence on public affairs.

The concept of accountability of public authorities is gaining ground; the category has been recognised as distinct and important in constitutional law and has received increasing attention in recent years. However, it still lacks a coherent theoretical structure as well as conceptual apparatus and comparative studies. The main research hypothesis is that accountability can be considered as one of the key categories of constitutional law and can serve as a useful tool for describing, analysing and assessing the fulfilment of democratic conditions and criteria in today’s systems.

That being said, the project only deals with forms of constitutional accountability (electoral and accountability within political structures and functions of public authorities, legislative, executive and judiciary, but not with control and accountability within bureaucratic (administrative) structures. So far, there is a lack of such comparative studies in the field of constitutional law. Meanwhile, the witnessed crisis of the paradigm of the modern liberal democratic state may be construed precisely as related to the crisis of accountability in many spheres. The waning of accountability within the electoral process, and the unclear and intractable processes of exercising power within the political system, when accountability is forgotten or neglected, lead to a crisis of trust, the growing power of populism and the search for substitutes for traditional democratic institutions. Political and sociological research in this field cannot replace constitutional debate on the accountability of political authorities under fundamental democratic principles.

Project objectives

The main goal of the project is to propose theoretical reflection on the phenomenon of accountability in the study of constitutional law: to analyse and formulate a coherent model of public accountability within the discipline of constitutional law. This goal will be achieved by categorising and thoroughly investigating selected mechanisms and processes in the constitutional practice of contemporary states, which are designed to enforce accountability for the exercise of power by those in whom it has been vested.

Comparative research, on the other hand, will seek to find a model of constitutional norms and practices in the area of accountability in contemporary European states, which will require an examination of legal regulations, practices and attitudes of political actors.


The project will propose a broad outline of accountability in terms familiar to constitutionalism, following a comparative study of constitutional law institutions that may seek to give and receive an account of the exercise of sovereign functions.

The project also includes elements on the study of the disappearance of accountability mechanisms and the risks of information overload and narrative practices in contemporary constitutional law and practice. The project is a theoretical and comparative proposal, as an attempt to critically analyse elements of many constitutional systems in search of regularities and standards of accountability.

Head: Anna Młynarska-Sobaczewska, PhD, Professor INP PAN