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Law Notes Administrative Law Notes

Retention Of Discretion And Abuse I Notes

Updated Retention Of Discretion And Abuse I Notes

Administrative Law Notes

Administrative Law

Approximately 1167 pages

Administrative Law notes fully updated for recent exams at Oxford and Cambridge. These notes cover all the major LLB aspects and so are perfect for anyone doing an LLB in the UK or a great supplement for those doing LLBs abroad, whether that be in Ireland, Canada, Hong Kong or Malaysia (University of London). These notes were formed directly from a reading of the cases and main texts and are vigorous, concise and very well written. Everything is conveniently split up by topic as you can see by th...

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1 Scene Setting

Once it is established that the decision-maker has legal power (jurisdiction) and he or she exercises that power fairly, the question arises whether the decision-maker exercised their power reasonably (in the broad sense). And that is what we will be concerned with in these lectures on the control of discretionary power.

All power has legal limits. This is a requirement of the rule of law; and it is the task of the courts to police those limits. But Parliament constantly confers upon public authorities powers which on their face might seem absolute and arbitrary. The courts have refused to countenance arbitrary power unfettered discretion.

The courts have woven a network of restrictive principles that require statutory powers to:

  1. be exercised reasonably and in good faith;

  2. for proper purposes only; and

  3. in accordance with the spirit as well as the letter of the empowering Act.

1.2 The Rule of Reason (see W&F 393ff)

Most of the principles deployed by the courts to control the exercise of discretion are ancient. They can be traced at least to Rooke’s Case in the 16th century. The Commissioners of Sewers had levied charges for repairing a riverbank, but they had thrown the whole charge on one adjacent owner instead of apportioning it among all the owners benefited. In law they had power to levy charges in their discretion.

But this charge was disallowed. Coke CJ said:

“. . and notwithstanding the words of the commission give authority to the commissioners to do according to their discretions, yet their proceedings ought to be limited and bound with the rule of reason and law. For discretion is a science or understanding to discern between falsity and truth, between wrong and right, between shadows and substance, between equity and colourable glosses and pretences, and not to do according to their wills and private affections….”

Coke LJ: discretion has legal limits. All power is circumscribed by the rule of law. One of the ways in which that idea exemplifies itself is in the idea of the retention of discretion.

Elsewhere he distinguishes between “the golden and straight metwand of the law” and the “crooked cord of private opinion that the vulgar call discretion” (4 Inst 41; Co. Litt 227b).

2 Retention of Discretion

Pursuant to this rule of reason discretionary power must be retained in the hands of those to which it was entrusted by Parliament. Thus the decision-maker must not unlawfully delegate the power; or surrender or abdicate the power to another; or act under another’s dictation; or adopt an over rigid policy; or restrict the discretion by contract (or by estoppel). A key principle in Administrative Law is that of retention of discretion – Parliament chooses who should exercise a power and make decisions, and only this person should have that discretion. Areas where this principle of retention may come into play include prohibition, delegation, fettering, over-rigid policy etc. The principle does not deal with the substance of the decision, but with ensuring that the correct person is making it.

Elliott perceives that the rules of administrative law that have developed in this context serve two distinct but related objectives.

  1. They require that decision-making is carried out by the specific agency tow which that discretion was, confided (so the transfer or delegation of discretion is prohibited); and

  2. ensure that the agency has at its disposal the full discretion which was granted to it (thereby precluding behaviour, such as the adoption of rigid policies or the entry into contracts, which limits that discretion).

2.1 Restriction of discretion by the adoption of an over-rigid policy

An authority can fail to give its mind to a case, and thus fail to exercise its discretion lawfully, by blindly following a policy laid down in advance. The raison d’être of discretionary power is that it permits decision makers to respond appropriately to the demands of particular situations. It is a fundamental rule that discretion must be brought to bear on every case: each one must be considered on its own merits and decided as the public interest requires at the time.

At the same time like cases should be treated alike; and it is right for administrative decision-makers should develop policies in order that their powers be exercised consistently. A tension therefore arises: to what extent may administrators legitimately structure their decision-making in this way, given that the very essence of discretionary power is the individualisation of decision making to circumstances?

Here are some contrasting views: R v Port of London Authority ex parte Kynoch [1919] KB 176 at 184:

“There are on the one hand cases where a tribunal in the honest exercise of its discretion has adopted a policy, and, without refusing to hear an applicant, intimates to him what its policy is, and that after hearing him it will in accordance with its policy decide against him, unless there is something exceptional in his case. I think counsel for the applicants would admit that, if the policy has been adopted for reasons which the tribunal may legitimately entertain, no objection could be taken to such a course. On the other hand there are cases where a tribunal has passed a rule, or come to a determination, not to hear any application of a particular character by whomsoever made. There is a wide distinction to be drawn between these two classes.” Bankes LJ

This analysis is useful to the extent that it draws a distinction between a policy which is flexible, and a rule which is applied so rigidly as to remove any genuine discretion. However, to the extent that it implies two wholly distinct categories of case, Bankes LJ’s analysis is too simplistic. Between the two extremes, it is self evident that a there will exist a spectrum of policies of differing degrees of rigidity. It is the court’s function to determine – taking account of contextual factors such...

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