This paper describes the development of legislation for the Civil Service in the UK. We then compare the UK with three other Westminster-style systems – Australia, New Zealand, and Canada – to look at how they have codified and legislated for their civil service systems, and how the different experiences illustrate the consequences of placing more of the system of government on a collectively agreed basis.

The Civil Service was finally established in primary legislation in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. This gave the independent Civil Service Commission a statutory basis, set rules for appointment of civil servants, codes of conduct, and other measures – but fundamentally it sought to place into statute what already existed in Royal Prerogative powers.

The evidence from elsewhere does not necessarily suggest that the UK should place more of the Civil Service in legislation. But it does suggest that the UK should explain more clearly and openly the relationships at the heart of government to enable a full and shared understanding of who is responsible for what, and on the basis of which powers.