ICAEW.com works better with JavaScript enabled.

The public interest

'The public interest' is used by many to justify a wide range of actions and proposals. However, it is often unclear (even to those using the term) what they mean by this, and there can be a natural suspicion that the phrase may be used as a smokescreen to garner support for something that is actually in the advocate's own interests.

Acting in the public interest: a framework for analysis

From a broad perspective, ICAEW does not believe that a detailed general definition would serve a useful purpose: individual circumstances are too variable and such a definition would inevitably result in unintended consequences. What we propose in our paper is a framework of matters to consider when justifying an action as being in the public interest. Using such a framework will allow those advocating an action in the public interest to understand what they mean, and, if explained, will allow those assessing the action or proposal to determine whether they can support the measure as being in the public interest.

We encourage feedback on the issues raised

Other work

Other issues which are being explored in the Market Foundations thought leadership initiative include:

  • Instilling integrity in organisations
  • Economic crime

In August 2010 and 2012 we hosted debate at the American Accounting Association Ethics Symposium:

In November 2010 the International Federation of Accountants published a consultation paper setting out its perspective of the public interest to which ICAEW responded.  IFAC’s final paper, ‘A definition of the public interest’ was issued in June 2012.

If you would like to input to the work, have any queries or would like to receive more information, contact Tony Bromell at marketfoundations@icaew.com.