12 November 2008

A Murky Methodology: Standards of Review in Administrative Law

Below is one of my articles that has just been published in the New Zealand Journal of Public and International Law:

> Dean R Knight, "A Murky Methodology: Standards of Review in Administrative Law" (2008) 6 NZJPIL 117

(Well, it's imprinted with a June 2008 date but, for various reasons - both within and beyond our control, the hard copy just turned up this month!)


The approach the courts should adopt when reviewing the "merits" of an administrative decision continues to be a vexed issue. For many years Wednesbury unreasonableness was regarded as the appropriate monolithic standard for this task. However, dissatisfaction with this standard has led to the development of alternative approaches, most notably the concept of variegated standards of reasonableness. This article explores the methodology adopted by New Zealand courts on this point and concludes that, while the courts have been prepared to adopt a sliding-scale of unreasonableness, the approach is under-developed and inadequate in a number of respects. From the existing experience, a refined five-standard framework is proposed to guide the degree of intensity the courts should adopt in their supervisory judicial review role.

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Course Outline

Lord Justice Lawton in Maxwell v Department of Trade and Industry [1974] 2 All ER 122 said:

"From time to time ... lawyers and judges have tried to define what constitutes fairness. Like defining an elephant, it is not easy to do, although fairness in practice has the elephantine quality of being easy to recognise. As a result of these efforts a word in common usage has acquired the trappings of legalism: 'acting fairly' has become 'acting in accordance with the rules of natural justice', and on occasion has been dressed up with Latin tags. This phrase in my opinion serves no useful purpose and in recent years it has encouraged lawyers to try to put those who hold inquiries into legal straitjackets.... For the purposes of my judgment I intend to ask myself this simple question: did the [decision-maker] act fairly towards the plaintiff?"

This course examines the elephantine concept of fairness in the law, along with other contemporary legal issues.

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