It is defined as the separation or division of political powers and functions among the three arms of government – the executive, legislature and judiciary. Each body should be constituted and be involved only in the administration of that department. For example, the executive should be solely involved in policy making and implementation. Liberal writers believe that power is dangerous and argue that it is normally bad for men to enjoy an excessive amount of it. Lord Acton declared in one of his writings that ?power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely’.

Montesquieu, in his book, The Spirit of Laws, argued that if the legislature and executive. powers are in unity, there can be no liberty and freedom for the citizens of a country. He maintained further that if the same person enacts tyrannical laws, such laws will also be executed in a tyrannical manner. Bodin, the French writer, also maintained that, the Prince should not administer justice in person, but should leave such matters to independent judges. Similarly, it is argued that if the rules are made by one group of people, applied or executed by a third party, it should be possible to prevent a situation where too much power accumulate in one place.


Merits of Separation of Powers

  1. Freedom and liberty: The freedom and liberty of individuals are safeguarded, since the constitution has these rights and courts are independent to protect them.
  2. Excesses of performance: This is removed on the part of the groups exercising the functions.
  3. Efficiency in administration: Separation of power brings about efficiency in the administration of the country.
  4. Checks and balances: This produces a proper coordination of functions since each organ acts as a check on the other.
  5. Stable political system: As powers are separated and every organ is mindful of its functions the society is better for it because a stable political system will result.
  6. Peaceful administration: Separation of powers make for a peaceful administration which equally produces an atmosphere for economic and political growth.
  7. It is democratic: Separation of power is an essential attribute of modern political system. It is democratic.
  8. Absence of dominance: Separation of powers removes the tendency for a particular organ exercising dominance over others.
  9. Prevents accumulation of power in one place: This is achieved if the rules are made by a group, applied or executed by another and interpreted by another group.


Demerits of Separation of Powers

  1. Factor of rigidity: A rigid application of the principle of separation of powers can hinder the smooth running of government.
  2. Checks and balances: This can bring about the inability of government to take prompt and quick decisions on matters that needed urgent attention.
  3. Abuse of power: The possibility of separation of powers, checking the abuse of power and violation of rights of citizens, cannot be achieved.
  4. Total separation of powers is not visible: This is because there are areas of interferences noticeable in the exercise of their functions.
  5. It can delay and affect performance: Checks and balances can delay and affect each arm’s performance in the decision making process.



  1. President / Heads of Government don’t make laws: This is because the president/heads of government don’t sit in congress or parliament
  2. Pronounced separation of power: There is clear or pronounced separation of power in presidential system of government.
  3. Dissolution of parliament: The parliament cannot be dissolved by the president unless its tenure is complete.
  4. Appointment of Judges: The president appoints the judges and they preside over judgement of the president and government officials.
  5. Judicial review: Judges have the power to review the activities of the legislature and the executive and can declare some of them unconstitutional.
  6. The term of the judges: The tenure of judges is made independent of the executive.
  7. Individual responsibility: There is individual responsibility of the cabinet members (ministers).
  8. Elected by popular support: The president is popularly elected by the people and not drawn from the parliament.
  9. Impeachment: The president can only be removed through impeachment, if found guilty of a serious offence by the parliament.
  10. Checks and balances
  • Suspensive veto: The president sends messages to the parliament and has a suspensive veto over the laws passed by it. Appointment: The senate consent is necessary for the appointment made by the president and the treaties negotiated by him.
  • Impeachment: House of representatives may impeach the president before the senate. This is a check on the powers of the president.
  • Judicial review: The president appoints the judges and judges may sit in judgement over the conduct of government officials.



  1. No clear or pronounced separation: Separation of power is not pronounced in this system.
  2. Ministers sit in parliament: That is, members of the executive branch are equally involved in the legislative branch.
  3. The cabinet presents policies: The cabinet decides on the policy which is to be put before parliament for discussion.
  4. The executive forms an integral part of the legislature: The cabinet is chosen from the legislature.
  5. Statutory orders: Ministers take part in its proceedings, initiate laws and have power to issue statutory orders.
  6. House of lords: This House of Lords is also the final court of appeal for the U.K. – Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
  7. Judicial review: The executive appoints the judges and they have power to preside over judgement on the conduct of government officials.
  8. Vote of no confidence: The parliament can pass the vote of no confidence and the entire cabinet is removed. This is a check on the powers of the cabinet.
  9. The lord chancellor: The Lord chancellor in Britain is a member of the three organs of government.
  10. Removal of Judges: The legislature has the power to present an address to the crown for the removal of judges. This is a check on the powers of judges.
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