Friday 30 August 2013

Standard of Review: Merits or Not

Canadian administrative lawyers worry a lot about the standard of review. In many cases there is significant disagreement over whether the reasonableness standard or correctness standard should be applied. Occasionally, weary voices suggest that all this haggling over the standard of review is an unnecessary distraction from the merits of cases.

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Absolute Liability Rules in Administrative Law

Doping in sport is a scourge. Eradicating is not easy. The awards for successful doping are very high. Sporting organizations find themselves in a difficult position. Testing everyone and everything is not possible. And often, a plausible (though not necessarily truthful) excuse can be offered in defence of an athlete who has registered a positive result.

Thursday 22 August 2013

Independence of Administrative Decision-Makers: No Protection from Independent Inquiries

The head of Québec's Régie du logement was accused several years ago of playing fast and loose with statistics. He is alleged to have ordered that more recent cases be treated more quickly -- to the detriment of older files in the system -- in order to show the authority's performance in a better light.

In Harvey c. Conseil de la justice administrative, 2013 QCCS 3253, he argued unsuccessfully that the principle of judicial independence should protect him from a formal investigation by the Conseil de la justice administrative.

Thursday 15 August 2013

The hopeless search for 'true' questions of jurisdiction

The Supreme Court of Canada has repeatedly said since Dunsmuir that there is a category of 'true' questions of jurisdiction. When responding to these questions administrative decision-makers must answer correctly, or face substitution of judicial judgment by the courts.

However, the Court has yet to identify a 'true' question of jurisdiction. This is not terribly surprising. The difficulty in identifying 'true' questions of jurisdiction is that most questions that one would -- if pressed -- identify as jurisdictional involve interpretations of a decision-maker's constitutive statute or a statute closely related to its function, interpretations which attract a presumption that reasonableness is the appropriate standard of review (see here at para. 16). Indeed, the retention of the category of 'true' jurisdictional questions is at war with the Court's promotion of deference.

Wednesday 14 August 2013

What is the Record for Judicial Review in Canada?

An American visitor to Montreal recently asked me "What is the 'record' for judicial review in Canada?" I chuckled, said "It depends" and directed her to paragraph 48 of Dunsmuir.

In Saskatchewan (Energy and Resources) v Areva Resources Canada Inc, 2013 SKCA 79 (which I have already blogged about here), the Ministry did not offer any interpretation of the provision at the time it made its decision. After a judicial review application had been commenced, the Ministry duly filed a supporting affidavit explaining its position.

Tuesday 13 August 2013

The Thin Line between Law and Discretion

A recurring issue in the law of judicial review is the distinction between law and discretion. Where this matters the most is in substantive review: should a similar standard of reasonableness be applied to questions of law and exercises of discretion?

Friday 9 August 2013

Paul Craig -- The Nature of Reasonableness Review

Professor Paul Craig has posted "The Nature of Reasonableness Review" on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
While there is a voluminous literature on proportionality, there is considerably less on reasonableness as a test for judicial review of discretionary determinations. This paper examines the nature of reasonableness as a test for judicial review of discretion in UK law. The paper is not predicated on the assumption that reasonableness always bears the same meaning whenever it is used in constitutional and administrative law in any legal system.

Subject to this caveat, it is argued that reasonableness as a test for judicial review of discretion in UK law is concerned with review of the weight and balance accorded by the primary decision-maker to factors that have been or can be deemed relevant in pursuit of a prima facie allowable purpose; that this is borne out through examination of the case law; that insofar as incommensurability is perceived to be a problem in the context of proportionality then this is also true in relation to reasonableness review; that the incommensurability problem is less problematic than is commonly perceived; and that a proper appreciation of reasonableness review has implications for the debate concerning reasonableness and proportionality as tests for judicial review in administrative law.
Craig's focus is on reasonableness in the context of review of exercises of discretion (rather than, for example, the unified reasonableness standard that Canadian courts (supposedly...) apply to both interpretations of law and exercises of discretion).

Craig's detailed discussion of weight, balance and incommensurability makes the paper an important contribution to understanding the nature of reasonableness review, a topic that has generally received scant attention. For those interested in reading further, I set out my preferred approach in a 2011 article and, in more detail, in chapter 4 of A Theory of Deference in Administrative Law.

Thursday 8 August 2013

Administrative Bodies Rectifying their Own Errors

We have all been there. A vital transaction needs to be made (think course registration, ticket purchase, visa payment) but, as you sit there drumming your fingers impatiently on the table, you are greeted with the message: "Our System is Currently Unavailable".

Now imagine that you wanted to access the system in order to re-register your gold holdings, assets on which you had spent $80,000 maintaining. Further imagine that, in the time you could not access the system, you forfeited your gold holdings because you missed the re-registration deadline and someone else swooped in and registered them.

This is the factual scenario of Valterra Resource Corp. v. British Columbia (Chief Gold Commissioner), 2013 BCSC 1172:

Wednesday 7 August 2013

Groundhog Day: the Wiarton Willie Festival and the Scope of Municipal Conflicts of Interest Legislation

Big news in Québec at the moment is the attempt to remove the embattled mayor of Saint-Rémi. New legislation provides that elected municipal officials charged with certain criminal offences may be removed from office by a Superior Court judge. The judge has discretion in determining whether to remove the individual, which is a marked (and welcome) difference from the situation in Ontario. Regular readers will remember the Rob Ford saga.

Re-righting English Administrative Law

I have always been a bit dubious about claims that administrative law is becoming increasingly rights-based. Whether it should undergo a reorientation is a different question, of course, but it is difficult to discern a demonstrable pattern towards a markedly new approach to judicial review. Jason Varuhas makes this clear in "The Reformation of English Administrative Law: 'Rights', Rhetoric and Reality":
This article examines and responds to a doctrinal claim, made by an increasing number of commentators, that English administrative law is in the midst of a "reformation" or "reinvention", with the notion of "rights" at the heart of this radical recalibration. The article is critical of such claims on several grounds. First, these claims are steeped in ambiguity, such that the nature and doctrinal scope of the claimed metamorphosis are not clear. Second, these commentators have not undertaken the sort of detailed doctrinal analysis which is required to make credible claims about the development of the law, meaning their broad claims have a strong propensity to mislead, and pass over the nuances and complexities of doctrine. An analysis of significant features of doctrine tends to tell against a wholesale recalibration of administrative law around rights, and indicates an increasingly pluralistic rather than unitary legal order. Third, despite the centrality of the idea of "rights" to their claims, these commentators do not squarely address what they mean by "rights", in general using the term indiscriminately, and thereby plunging their claims into uncertainty. The article demonstrates the importance of conceptual clarity in analyzing "rights"-based developments through a doctrinal analysis of "rights" in administrative law, conducted through the prism of W.N. Hohfeld's analytical scheme.
A good example, explored by Varuhas, is the law on standing. If courts were more concerned with "rights", one would expect a tightening of access to judicial review. In fact, the opposite has happened. Varuhas has numerous examples; the reader can doubtless amuse herself by adding others.

Varuhas also has a good discussion of the meaning of "rights" in administrative law. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that "rights" refer to an awful lot of different things.

You can download the paper here.


Friday 2 August 2013