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Independence in Corporate Governance: the Audit Committee Role

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The Code of Best Practice produced by the Cadbury Committee on the Financial Aspects of Corporate Governance (Cadbury Committee 1992) may be viewed as an ethical code in that it prescribes standards of board behaviour. The Code’s specific recommendations with regard to audit committees appear to offer a practical mechanism for the promotion of ethical behaviour through the inhibition of potentially unethical influences exerted by executive directors over external auditors. The rationale for these recommendations centres on the independence of audit committee members, implying that independence is a prerequisite for ethical behaviour. This paper questions the assumptions regarding the role of independence through an exploration of conceptions of independence held by individuals involved in the activities of audit committees in major UK public limited companies. It suggests that audit committees may have an unarticulated role in providing an arena for the display of independence by the participants. This display forms a part of the ceremonial performance which builds confidence in corporate governance mechanisms.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Principal Lecturer and Senior Research Fellow in the Business School at Oxford Brookes University

Publication date: 1999-10-01

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