Public Interest

John Morison, Leanne Cochrane

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The idea of public interest is a protean one. It is certainly not static, but rather evolves over time and gains its content from the context in which it is used. This can vary from an idea that public interest is the product of the outworkings of the process of → democracy, through to an idea that is almost its antithesis, where public interest is in the keeping of a small group or even an individual who alone can determine its content and application (as Eamon De Valera, one of the founders of the Irish state is reported to have claimed, ‘if I wish to know what the Irish people want, I look into my own heart’ (Fanning 14). While the term ‘public interest’ is the one that appears most frequently within contemporary constitutions, variations of the term also appear in similar contexts. These include, inter alia, ‘general interest’, ‘common good’, ‘public good’, ‘common interest’, ‘public benefit’, ‘collective interest’, ‘general good’ and ‘general will’. The analysis of public interest that follows should be read to include those occasions where it has appeared in the above variations. In addition, there are other similar but more specific terms used in constitutions such as ‘national interest’, ‘public utility’ and ‘social interest’. These terms may have some benefit of assisting the reader in interpreting what is meant by the public interest but also indicate the slippery nature of its use.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMax Planck Encyclopedia of Comparative Constitutional Law [MPECCoL]
Subtitle of host publicationPublished under the direction of the Max Planck Foundation for International Peace and the Rule of Law.
EditorsRainer Grote, Frauke Lachenmann, Rudiger Wolfrum
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages13
Publication statusAccepted - Jun 2018


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