The term “accountability” is virtually ubiquitous within literature and debates on organizational governance, and especially within corporate governance. However, as a social phenomenon it is frequently misunderstood, particularly by corporate lawyers.
To a large extent, this is unsurprising. After all, it is to be expected that complex sociological issues posed by the historically peculiar scale and structure of public companies—such as decisional power, accountability and legitimacy—will be received somewhat uneasily within orthodox corporate law discourse. Indeed, with limited exceptions, Anglo-American corporate law scholarship today remains rooted in the traditional conceptual habitat of private law, with its characteristic focus on the discrete relational transaction. A latent but nonetheless significant consequence of this has been the definitional “fudging” by corporate lawyers of some inherently public-governmental phenomena that are relevant to corporate governance, in an attempt to render them consistent with the logic and language of private law. This is true nowhere more than with respect to the difficult concept of accountability.