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It should be noted that the administrative law of Canada places a particular emphasis on the process by dint of which a legal decision is reached. Procedural fairness and clear, transparent procedures are of paramount importance. In that matter, fairness refers to the result achieved through a properly functioning mechanism for the administration of the law. Therefore, procedural fairness is a logical assessment of an action based on the criteria formulated in a generally accepted regulatory system. The purpose of this paper is to discuss such aspects of administrative law as discretion, credibility, bias, and duty to give reasons and support them with court cases.
Administrative law principles are applicable to the activities of the government. They are relevant for the governmental acts and procedures and regulate bodies governed by the state. Also, administrative law governs and controls the way various public programs are implemented. That is, it allows determining whether decision-makers act within the limits of their authority (Lewan’s 60). Ethics and observance of citizens’ interests are ensured by administrative law as well. One of the most significant aspects is the engagement of residents in decision-making, which is a hallmark of democratic practice. Participation of citizens in the process is essential for achieving fairness and justice.
Discretion is a concept that assumes the predominance of expediency over legality during decision-making. It implies that the participants of legal relations are given the opportunity to act at their own discretion depending on the circumstances and within the framework of the law. In Baker v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 2 S.C.R. 817 (1999) case, this notion is defined as “decisions where the law does not dictate a specific outcome, or where the decision-maker is given a choice of options within a statutorily imposed set of boundaries.” It should be stressed that citizens exercise discretion frequently enough since it is a practice they employ when making any decisions. However, each particular situation defines the degree to which it is fulfilled.
As for the courts, they assess discretionary decisions depending on the circumstances. In particular, they say “The Minister may/shall” to indicate the decision made. In the first case, the wording implies that there are multiple options to choose from. The second instance means that no alternative solutions are possible, and it is obligatory to act in the discussed manner. Importantly, in both settings, the tribunal always arrives at a conclusion that lies within the scope of the law (Lewan’s 51).
In the case mentioned above, the court made a statement that discretion was an interpretation of the law. It was decided that the tribunal would apply a pragmatic approach to specifying the degree of latitude given to governments. Their resolution depended on multiple aspects, including the competence of the authority, the section of the law, and the effects of the decision.
Credibility is one of the fundamental notions of administrative law. It implies defining if the source of information is reliable and honest and requires determining whether it can be trusted. Notably, the concept is directly related to the right of individuals to procedural fairness (Lewan’s 166). Credibility is evaluated in different situations and especially in those when citizens’ legal rights are concerned. For instance, this aspect is almost always assessed when an individual applies for employment insurance.
The case of Khan v. Ottawa Univ., 101 O.A.C. 241 (C.A.) (1997) is an illustration of this issue. The student was requested to repeat a semester due to the fact that she was not registered in the fourth booklet. She appealed to the committee of the educational institution and then to the Senate Committee. She was denied procedural fairness in both instances, while her credibility was critical. The authorities did not provide the student with an opportunity to have an oral hearing. The issue was concluded to the fact that the applicant was deprived of the possibility to reveal her perspective.
Importantly, oral hearings allow decision-makers to assess the credibility of the individual through such aspects as body language, tone, and so on. Apart from that, the woman’s right to procedural fairness was violated in other ways as well. For instance, the applicant was not informed regarding specific aspects of the process. The institution did not carry out a sufficient investigation on where the booklet might have gone. Moreover, the committees took into consideration such an extrinsic aspect as a result achieved (a failure) based on the other booklets.
To assess credibility, several steps may be employed depending on the circumstances. As the case discussed above has illustrated, holding an oral hearing is an effective way to evaluate the reliability of the source. It is crucial to inform the parties that credibility is being evaluated. The individual whose truthfulness is being determined should be provided an opportunity to eliminate concerns in terms of their trustworthiness (Lewan’s 153). It is necessary to focus on the evidence that is coherent and may be characterized by a high degree of probability. In addition, it is crucial to provide arguments why the source of information is not credible. However, reliable evidence should not be questioned too hard to detect minor inconsistencies.
Bias is an unobjective or prejudiced opinion about a person, an event, or phenomenon that has developed on the basis of stereotypes. Also, it might be a decision that is not based on specific objective facts and arguments. Often enough, bias is the consequence of the application of a personal emotional attitude to a situation instead of having a neutral perspective on the matter. Such a position or approach is one-sided, and an unobjective judgment is the consequence of some form of close-mindedness and intolerance (Lewan’s 34).
The complexity of the situation lies in the fact that this notion is quite multi-faceted, and it can have many forms, both evident and concealed. Therefore, each case may be subject to debates and interpretations. Importantly, bias may be faced in everyday situations quite often, which makes it particularly significant in terms of administrative law. Arriving at conclusions is a practice that is part of human activity, while making judgments is a responsibility delegated to the judge.
Bias is determined in two steps during which it is first defined whether the act of prejudice is present, after which a legal test is carried out. If bias has been determined, the judgment may be overturned upon judicial review (Lewan’s 72). It is always easier to eliminate possible bias rather than to deal with it after it has already been manifested. When dealing with bias, it is important not to focus on the judge’s identity but on their conduct to specify whether they have been acting in favor of one party instead of or remaining neutral.
In the case of Native Women’s Assn. of Canada v. Canada, 3 S.C.R. 627 (1994), bias was determined, and it was proved that the rights of the participants of the association were violated. In particular, the applicants believed that the funds were distributed unequally. It might be assumed that the minister was prejudiced against women and minorities when it was ruled that their rights were not infringed. It should be noted that administrative law is an area, which almost always implies the presence of a certain degree of bias. Nevertheless, it is to be kept to a minimum since the tribunal is supposed to remain neutral on any issue. The legal test for specifying whether the decision contains prejudice requires a realistic assessment of the situation made by an informed individual.
Duty to Give Reasons
The duty to give reasons is directly related to determining the credibility of the source and implies the obligation to provide written reasons when requested. It allows ensuring that the decision-making is fair and transparent. The extent of duty may be different since it mainly depends on the context (Lewan’s 174). In general, the duty serves as a guarantee that the judgments will be impartial, and it also enhances the degree of accountability of the tribunal.
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Moreover, it boosts public confidence and trust in the judgment passed and allows concluding whether it is necessary to appeal or not. At the same time, the duty to give reasons may become an additional administrative burden and result in increased expenses. Notably, the duty implies keeping any relevant documents and papers for proof. Apart from greater credibility, this notion is relevant for achieving procedural fairness since the litigant should be provided a detailed explanation of why a particular judgment has been passed. It is possible to speculate on whether the decision is fair; however, it is difficult to deprecate reasons.
The case of Baker v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 2 S.C.R. 817 (1999) is relevant for the discussion of the duty to give reasons as well. The woman was objecting whether her case was observed with a compassionate consideration. The opinions of the members of the tribunal were divided in terms of the Immigration Act to which the woman was referring. They were unsure whether reasons were necessary in the case (Lewan’s 172).
Moreover, they were not confident enough to decide if the notes of the officer would be enough to pass judgment. The court noted that reasons would be useful, and they might allow reaching greater procedural fairness. In Canada, reasons may be required in cases when the applicant appeals to the court or when they are particularly significant for the individual. In the case of the woman, disregarding the reasons would be unfair.
Thus, it can be concluded that such fundamental concepts as credibility, procedural fairness, and duty to give reasons are essential elements of administrative law. In addition, courts should always strive to remain as unbiased as possible, not to disrupt citizens’ trust. Meanwhile, discretion is a notion, which illustrates that settings may be ambiguous, and the tribunal should act pragmatically when arriving at a decision. These tenets should be applied to decision-making to enhance residents’ trust and confidence and achieve fairness and justice.
Baker v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 2 S.C.R. 817 (1999). Supreme Court of Canada. Web.
Khan v. Ottawa Univ., 101 O.A.C. 241 (C.A.) (1997). Ontario Court of Appeal. Web.
Lewis, Matthew. Administrative Law and Judicial Deference: Hart Studies in Comparative Public Law. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016.
Native Women’s Assn. of Canada v. Canada, 3 S.C.R. 627 (1994). Supreme Court of Canada. Web.