The Separation of Powers Doctrine - Why an independent judiciary and legal profession is critical to our democracy.

Posted by David J. SteeleSep 28, 20230 Comments

At its core, the Separation of Powers doctrine divides governmental responsibilities among three distinct branches: the legislative, executive, and judiciary. This division isn't just for administrative efficiency; it is an institutional safeguard, a balance designed to prevent the concentration of power and to guard against tyranny.

The genius of this doctrine lies in its built-in system of checks and balances. Each branch, while operating autonomously, is designed to ensure that no other branch monopolizes power or operates unchecked. This equilibrium ensures that our government serves the people, and not the other way around.

This system would falter without an independent judiciary. Why? Because the judiciary, more than any other branch, serves as the ultimate guardian of our constitution, our rights, and the rule of law. When either the executive or the legislative branch oversteps their bounds, or when individual rights are trampled, it is the judiciary that provides redress.

An independent judiciary ensures that laws are interpreted and applied without the influence of politics, popular sentiment, or personal interests. Its judgments are based on the principles enshrined in our Constitution and the established body of law. And for the judiciary to function at its best, we need an independent legal profession, lawyers and advocates who can argue cases, raise issues, and champion causes without fear of retribution, retaliation, or undue influence.

Consider for a moment a politically partisan judiciary that is influenced by the executive or legislative branch. It would no longer act as a check on power, but rather, as an enabler. Consider a legal profession regulated by any branch other than the judicial branch. Lawyers regularly sue the executive and legislative branches of government.  The examples are legion.  How often through history have various legislatures passed unconstitutional laws? How many times has the executive branch attempted to wrest power from another branch of government?  Do you want your lawyer to be regulated by a branch of government you, or others like you, may have to sue? Attorneys regulated by either the legislative or executive branches of government will be subject to external pressures which are not aimed at serving justice, but rather the whims and wills of those who exert that pressure. Without independence, the judiciary and the legal profession cannot ensure that justice is both done - and seen to be done.

The Separation of Powers Doctrine is not just an academic concept; it is the living, breathing mechanism that protects our freedoms and rights. And at the heart of this doctrine lies an independent judiciary and legal profession, serving as both a shield and a compass, guiding our democratic ship away from the shoals of tyranny and towards the shores of justice and liberty.