Accountable Institutions, Trustworthy Cultures

Published 24 May 2017

Across the last fifty years, there have been huge efforts to construct more accountable institutions at every level from international organisations to state bureaucracies, from giant corporations and NGOs to small businesses and local charities. A principal instrument in seeking greater accountability has been an extension of law and regulation: more enforceable rules constraining more institutions and their office holders in more of their activities. Yet accountability by regulation has often disappointed. The principal problem is not that rules do not matter: they are evidently needed for the rule of law, and hence also for the protection of human rights, for democracy, and for commercial life. However, rules are always and unavoidably incomplete and indeterminate. 

Professor O’Neill (University of Cambridge/House of Lords, UK) expressed this view at the Second Annual T.M.C. Asser Lecture in The Hague in December 2016. The speech by Onora O’Neill is now published as a book.

Download the text of the Second Annual T.M.C. Asser Lecture here.

O’Neill argues the use of rules is always a matter of judgement, and it is an illusion to imagine the rules can go ‘all the way down’. Yet contemporary regulation often appears to ignore this well-established point. In her opinion, a more adequate approach to institutional life would recognise the importance of institutional cultures that acknowledge the importance of institutional life being guided by purposes, standards and cultures that require and foster the exercise of judgement in the use of rules.

Cultivation of trust
The T.M.C. Asser Instituut aims to contribute to the development of international and European law in such a way that it serves the cultivation of trust and respect in the global, regional, national and local societies in which these laws operate.