This study has three main aims. First, it seeks to investigate the nature and extent of interactions between constitutional watchdogs. Second, it intends to examine some possible factors explaining why watchdogs do, or do not, interact with one another in certain ways. Third, it explores how watchdog interactions are shaped by the administrative contexts within which the watchdogs are based, and to what extent and how the interactions transcend their boundaries.
The context for this thesis is the proliferation of so-called ‘constitutional watchdogs’ in the UK since the introduction of devolution to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Constitutional watchdogs can be understood as bodies established to ensure acceptable standards in the conduct of public business largely separate from issues of efficiency and effectiveness.
Although such bodies are by now an integral part of the UK constitutional landscape at the state and the devolved levels, there are some gaps in the research that has analyzed them to date. This includes the comparatively limited attention to how watchdogs interact with one another and why. Also, there is a scope to explore in more depth how their interactions are affected by the dynamics of devolution, including how they are shaped by specific administrative contexts, and how they unfold across them. Answer to these questions could contribute to the understandings of efficiency and effectiveness of the watchdog landscape. Furthermore, however, it could also help to evaluate and substantiate the idea of such bodies forming ‘the fourth branch of the government’, with important implications for accountability and democracy.
Drawing on literatures on implementation and policy networks, interorganizational relations and multi-level governance, the project investigates this topic through case-studies, focusing on the interactions of public sector ombudsmen and children’s commissioners in Wales, Northern Ireland and on the UK level.