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.


This content has been updated on June 11, 2014 at 09:46.