Inaugural Lecture: Plural Public Law, March 4, 2020

I will be giving the inaugural lecture for my University Research Chair in Administrative Law & Governance at the University of Ottawa on Wednesday, March 4, 2020 at 5pm (FTX302, 57 Louis Pasteur Private, Ottawa K1N 6N5). The title is “Plural Public Law”,

The Right Honourable Richard Wagner, Chief Justice of Canada, will introduce the event. The Honourable Marie-France Bich of the Quebec Court of Appeal will moderate. After my lecture there will be comments by the Honourable David Stratas of the Federal Court of Appeal and Professor Geneviève Cartier, Interim Dean of the Faculty of Law at the Université de Sherbrooke. Do get in touch if you think you would like to attend.

Here is the abstract for “Plural Public Law”:

We live in a world of increasing complexity, submerged by tidal waves of statutes, delegated legislation, soft law, judicial decisions and administrative adjudication, and swept along by vicious rip tides of technological and social change. What role can and should common law public lawyers play in a world of complexity and change? For public lawyers to remain relevant — never mind influential — requires plural public law, an approach based on a plurality of principles, sources and methodologies. 

Rejecting any conception of the legal world as a neatly ordered set of norms proceeding logically from agreed premises, I argue that public law is influenced by a plurality of principles: examining how these operate in the real world of legislation, executive action, administrative adjudication and judicial review sheds light on public law and provides public lawyers with tools to manage complexity and influence change. 

These principles are found in a plurality of sources, of which judicial decisions are only one. The legislative process, executive action and administrative adjudication also generate public law principles. With a massive volume of material pouring forth from these sources, public lawyers need to act quickly to triage the relevant from the irrelevant, a task for which social media (including blogs) are indispensable. 

Ensuring that a variety of methodological approaches are brought to bear on public law enriches our understanding of these principles. Normative, theoretical/philosophical, empirical, institutional and interdisciplinary approaches all have their place, as long as proponents of these approaches are epistemically modest enough to recognize that they probably will not be able to generate a unified field theory of public law and sensitive to the legal system’s requirements of doctrinal rigour and coherence. 

Now I just need to write it!

This content has been updated on November 28, 2019 at 04:42.