The Civil Service Code summarises the constitutional and ethical framework within which civil servants work. There are different versions for the Home Civil Service, the Diplomatic Service, the Devolved Administrations and Special Advisers. The rest of this note focusses on the first of these.
The code's introduction reads as follows:
The Civil Service is an integral and key part of the government of the United Kingdom. It supports the Government of the day in developing and implementing its policies, and in delivering public services. Civil servants are accountable to Ministers, who in turn are accountable to Parliament.
As a civil servant, you are appointed on merit on the basis of fair and open competition and are expected to carry out your role with dedication and a commitment to the Civil Service and its core values: integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality.
In this Code:
- ‘integrity’ is putting the obligations of public service above your own personal interests;
- ‘honesty’ is being truthful and open;
- ‘objectivity’ is basing your advice and decisions on rigorous analysis of the evidence; and
- ‘impartiality’ is acting solely according to the merits of the case and serving equally well Governments of different political persuasions.
These core values support good government and ensure the achievement of the highest possible standards in all that the Civil Service does. This in turn helps the Civil Service to gain and retain the respect of Ministers, Parliament, the public and its customers.
The Code says that:
You must: set out the facts and relevant issues truthfully, and correct any errors as soon as possible; and use resources only for the authorised public purposes for which they are provided.
You must not: deceive or knowingly mislead Ministers, Parliament or others; or be influenced by improper pressures from others or the prospect of personal gain.
Follow this link for a discussion of the need for factual accuracy and political impartiality in government communications, including in tweets and other social media.
The Code says that:
You must: provide information and advice, including advice to Ministers, on the basis of the evidence, and accurately present the options and facts; take decisions on the merits of the case; and take due account of expert and professional advice.
You must not: ignore inconvenient facts or relevant considerations when providing advice or making decisions; or frustrate the implementation of policies once decisions are taken by declining to take, or abstaining from, action which flows from those decisions.
The first version of this Code of Practice was put in place in January 1996 at the suggestion of the then Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee, and was revised in May 1999 to take account of devolution to Scotland and Wales. A significantly new edition was published in June 2006. It differed from the previous one in two main ways:
- If a civil servant believes that that he/she is being asked to behave in a way which conflicts with the code, he/she may now report the matter direct to the Civil Service Commissioners.
- It is now clearly specified that the code is part of the contractual relationship between the civil servant and his/her employer.
The code has since been amended several times but its substance has remained essentially unchanged.