The Seven Principles of Public Life

1-2 minutes

In this blog, you will learn:

  • An introduction into The Seven Principles of Public Life
  • What The Seven Principles of Public Life are 
  • If The Seven Principles of Public Life are still relevant today
  • Factors affecting the relevance of The Seven Principles of Public Life
  • Arguments to support the relevance of The Seven Principles of Public Life
  • If The Seven Principles of Public Life are enforceable by law

An introduction to The Seven Principles of Public Life

In 1994, the UK government established a Committee on Standards in Public Life whose responsibility it was to improve standards and behaviours in public life.

During the first report of the committee, chaired by Lord Nolan, The Seven Principles of Public Life were devised. 

The Seven Principles of Public Life encompass a set of fundamental values and standards that guide the conduct of individuals holding public office or involved in public service. Public sector jobs include all people appointed to work in local government, the civil service, the police, health, education, social and care services and court and probation services non-departmental public bodies. 

The seven principles serve as a compass, providing a framework for ethical decision-making, accountability, and transparency in the realm of governance.

At their core, the principles emphasise the importance of upholding integrity, honesty, and ethical behaviour in public service. They serve as a reminder that those in positions of authority should act in the best interests of the public, ensuring that their actions are driven by a sense of responsibility and a commitment to the greater good.

The principles were also introduced to promote trust, fairness, and openness in the conduct of public affairs. They emphasise the need for public officials to demonstrate selflessness, putting the interests of the public before their own. 

Transparency in decision-making processes and accountability for actions are essential aspects of these principles, reinforcing the idea that public officials should be answerable for their conduct and decisions.

What are The Seven Principles of Public Life?

While the specific formulation of the seven principles may vary across different jurisdictions and organisations, the underlying principles typically include the concepts:

  • Selflessness
  • Integrity
  • Objectivity
  • Accountability
  • Openness
  • Honesty
  • Leadership

The Seven Principles of Public Life represent a collective effort to establish a standard of behaviour that promotes public trust and confidence in the actions of those entrusted with public responsibilities.


 This principle states that holders of public office should act only in terms of the public interest.


This principle states that those who hold public office must avoid placing themselves under obligations to people or organisations that could try to influence them or their work in an inappropriate manner. 

Holders of public office should not act on or make decisions in order to make financial or material gain for themselves or anyone they know. 


This principle ensures that holders of public office are acting in a way and making decisions that are impartial, fair and based on merit.

They must use the best evidence to make such decisions and do so without discrimination or bias. 


Accountability states that holders of public office are accountable to the public for any decisions they make or actions they take. 

Under this principle, holders of public office must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure that their accountability is upheld. 


Openness sets out that holders of public office should act in a way and take decisions in a transparent manner.

This principle states that information should not be withheld from the public, unless there is a lawful and obvious reason for doing so. 


This principle states that holders of public office should always be truthful. 


This principle sets out that holders of public office should always treat others with respect, whilst exhibiting each of the seven principles within their own behaviour.

Holders of public office should promote and support the principles and deal with poor behaviour if this ever occurs. 

Are The Seven Principles of Public Life still relevant today?

It’s over 25 years since The Seven Principles of Public Life were established, which has made their relevance an ongoing question for debate.

In a rapidly evolving world times have undeniably changed since the inception of the principles and societal, technological and political shifts have inevitably had a profound impact on the dynamics of governance and how public office holders operate. 

As a consequence of this, some individuals in positions of power have begun questioning the continued relevance of the principles. 

Factors that have shaped the relevance of The Seven Principles of Public Life

One key factor influencing the relevance of the The Seven Principles of Public Life is the complex nature of modern governance. 

As the intricacies of public service have expanded, navigating ethical challenges and balancing competing interests has become increasingly complex. 

Critics argue that the rigid application of these principles may hinder adaptability and the effective decision-making in today's multifaceted landscape.

Furthermore, the rise of social media and instant communication has altered the dynamics of public scrutiny. 

Public officials are now under constant surveillance, facing heightened public expectations and intense scrutiny of their every action. 

This evolving context has raised concerns about the practicality of the principles and their compatibility with the realities of contemporary governance.

Supporting the relevance of The Seven Principles of Public Life

Despite the arguments against their relevance, there are arguments to support the timelessness of the seven principles.

Whilst context may have evolved, the core values at the heart of each principle remain paramount. 

Integrity, accountability, and transparency are timeless principles that underpin public trust and serve as a foundation for good governance. 

These principles provide a moral compass and a standard of behaviour for those in positions of power, helping to mitigate corruption, ensure responsible decision-making, and safeguard the interests of the public.

Ultimately, the debate surrounding the relevance of the seven principles highlights the need for adaptability and steadfast ethical standards to work in conjunction. 

The debate calls for ongoing critical examination of the principles to ensure they address the evolving nature of public life. 

Are The Seven Principles of Public Life enforceable by law?

The enforceability of The Seven Principles of Public Life varies depending on the jurisdiction and legal framework in place. 

While these principles serve as guidelines for ethical behaviour in public service, they are not typically enforceable through direct legal actions. Instead, they often operate as moral and professional standards, shaping the behaviour of individuals in public office. 

However, in some cases, aspects of these principles may be written into legislation or incorporated into codes of conduct that have legal consequences. 

For example, conflicts of interest or breaches of trust may be addressed through existing laws applicable to corruption, fraud, or abuse of power. 

Additionally, regulatory bodies may have the authority to investigate and take disciplinary action against individuals who violate these principles. 

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