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Democracy, accountability and audit: the creation of the UK NAO as a defence of liberty

Ferry, L.; Midgley, H.

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Purpose: The study focusses on explaining why advocates for reform to state audit in the United Kingdom (UK) in the early 1980s, focussed on improving the links between the new National Audit Office (NAO) and Parliament, rather than on traditional notions of audit independence. The study shows how this focus on the auditor’s link to Parliament depends on a particular concept of liberty and relates this to the wider literature on the place of audit in democratic society. Design/methodology/approach: Understanding the issue of independence of audit in protecting the liberties and rights of citizens needs addressed. In this article, we investigate the creation of audit independence in the UK in the National Audit Act (1983). To do so, we employ a neo-Roman concept of liberty to historical archives ranging from the late 1960’s to 1983. Findings: The study shows that advocates for audit reform in the UK from the 1960s to the 1980s were arguing for an extension to Parliament’s power to hold the executive to account and that their focus was influential on the way that the new NAO was established. Using a neo-Roman concept of liberty, we show that they believed Parliamentary surveillance of the executive was necessary to secure liberty within the UK. Originality: The neo-Roman concept of liberty extends previous studies in considering the importance of audit for public accountability, preservation of liberty and democracy. Practical implications: Public sector audit can be a fundamentally democratic activity. Auditors should be alert to the constitutional importance of their work and see parliamentary accountability as a key objective.


Ferry, L., & Midgley, H. (2022). Democracy, accountability and audit: the creation of the UK NAO as a defence of liberty. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, 35(2), 413-438.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 6, 2021
Online Publication Date Jul 28, 2021
Publication Date Feb 3, 2022
Deposit Date Jul 12, 2021
Publicly Available Date Jul 13, 2021
Journal Accounting Auditing and Accountability
Print ISSN 0951-3574
Publisher Emerald
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 35
Issue 2
Pages 413-438
Public URL


Accepted Journal Article (409 Kb)

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Copyright Statement
This article is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial International Licence 4.0 (CC BY-NC 4.0) and any reuse must be in accordance with the terms outlined by the licence.

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