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Retention Of Discretion Problem Question Notes Notes

Updated Retention Of Discretion Problem Question Notes Notes

Administrative Law Notes

Administrative Law

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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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Retention of Discretion

1 Delegation

Presumption Against Delegation

This presumption is based on the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty.

Following Barnard v National Dock Labour Board, it appears that the more important the function, the less willing the courts are to find statutory permission for delegation, so the stronger the presumption against delegation – “While an administrative function can often be delegated, a judicial function rarely can be. No judicial tribunal can delegate its functions unless it is enabled to do so expressly or by necessary implication.” On the facts, the local dock labour board’s power to suspend a man could not lawfully be delegated to the port manager.

The rule is subject to the statute. For e.g., s 16(1) Localism Act expressly permits delegation: “A Minister of the Crown may, to such extent and subject to such conditions as that Minister thinks fit, delegate to a permitted authority any of the Minister's eligible functions.”

Delegation may arise in various forms.

Acting under dictation

Decision-makers are not allowed to act under the dictation of another entity as that amounts to delegation: Lavender v Minister of Housing and Local Government

There is a fine line between seeking guidance and acting under dictation. In PQs, mention that courts will consider the reality of the decision-making process, rather than its form. R (New London College) v Home Secretary (2013). Facts: educational institutions had been conferred the power by HS to make certain judgments which affected one part of the application for student visas. Held: this was not delegation of HS’s powers under Immigration Rules to educational institutions. She had last word about leave to enter or remain; significant number of students who had been refused despite producing a CAS shows HS retained her discretion. Grant of CAS was strong but inconclusive factor for student’s application for leave to enter.

Cf. Lavender v Minister of Housing and Local Government (1970). Facts: Minister of Housing and Local Government practised a policy of withholding permission for gravel extraction ‘unless Minister for Agriculture is not opposed’. Such a policy was not allowed in the statute. Held: Minister for Agriculture’s role was decisive, he had been delegated the effective decision on any appeal where he objects.


Another corollary: rule against rubberstamping.

In the PQs, rubberstamping can be inferred from the facts – frequency of decision, decision-maker seeking input from others or not, etc.

The Carltona Principle

The Rule

The anti-sub-delegation principle is subject to a very large exception.

Carltona Ltd v Commissioners of Works (1943): “In the administration of government in this country the functions which are given to ministers…are functions so multifarious that no minister could ever personally attend to them... The duties imposed upon ministers and the powers given to ministers are normally exercised under the authority of the ministers by responsible officials of the department. Public business could not be carried on if that were not the case. Constitutionally, the decision of such an official is, of course, the decision of the minister. The minister is responsible. It is he who must answer before Parliament for anything that his officials have done under his authority, and, if for an important matter he selected an official of such junior standing that he could not be expected competently to perform the work, the minister would have to answer for that in Parliament. The whole system of departmental organisation and administration is based on the view that ministers, being responsible to Parliament, will see that important duties are committed to experienced officials. If they do not do that, Parliament is the place where complaint must be made against them.

There are two ways of reconciling the anti-sub-delegation principle with the Carltona principle:

  1. No delegation at all. Oladehinde (1991): “The civil servant acts not as the delegate, but as the alter ego, of the Secretary of State”. “Devolution may be a better word than delegation”. Bourgass (2015): “a decision made on behalf of a minster by one of his officials is constitutionally the decision of the minister himself”.

  2. Lord Diplock in Bushell v SS for the Environment: discretion in making administrative decisions is conferred upon a Minister not as an individual but as the holder of an office in which he will have available to him in arriving at his decision the collective knowledge, experience and expertise of all those who serve the Crown in the department of which…he is the political head”. Supported by Freedland.

Note that the Carltona doctrine only applies to delegation of powers from ministers. If not, Carltona won’t apply.


Officials within department of Minister

The Carltona principle obviously applies to officials within the department of which the Minister is the head.


Under the doctrine, only delegation to officials of suitable seniority is allowed: R v Home Secretary, ex p Oladehinde. What constitutes suitable seniority depends on the nature of the power in question: DPP v Haw. Any delegation must be to someone properly qualified to make the judgment: Castle v DPP. NB. This requirement of officials with experience is clear from Lord Greene MR’s remarks in Carltona as well.

Contrary Parliamentary Intention

The Carltona doctrine will not apply if there is evidence of contrary Parliamentary intention. Such intention may appear from the statute. In Bourgass, the prison governor and his officials acted under Rule 45(2) of the Prison Rules 1999 – a prisoner shall not be placed in solitary for more than 72 hours “without the Secretary of State for Justice’s approval – but this was unlawful because, inter alia, the scheme of the Prison Rules show that it was Parliament’s intention that only the Minister can approve solitary confinement exceeding 72 hours.

Executive agencies

It is possible...

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