The General, the Specific and the Anatomy of Administrative Law

Over on the Admin Law Blog I have a post on Joanna Bell’s new book, The Anatomy of Administrative Law (Hart, Oxford, 2020). Here is a taste:

I am not sure I would go quite as far as the late, great Professor Sir David Williams in saying administrative law is simply about “application of the ultra vires rule”, but he powerfully expresses the idea that the general principles of judicial review of administrative action represent collections of barnacles stuck on the hulks of various statutory provisions.

In The Anatomy of Administrative Law,Joanna Bell gives contemporary expression to the same idea, but with greater force: she maintains it over a substantial manuscript touching a diverse range of areas of administrative law, namely procedural fairness, legitimate expectation and standing.

Moreover, Dr Bell expands upon Professor Williams’ idea, describing the three features of administrative law which lend it an inherent complexity: administrative law cases involve (as Williams recognized) the interpretation of discrete statutory provisions, not the articulation of sweeping general principles; in administrative law cases, judges juggle a plurality of principles, purposes or values and cannot rely on one unifying meta-concept; and the protagonists in administrative law cases find themselves in different relationships, sometimes tied together by general norms, sometimes by individualized decisions highly specific to the circumstances of the parties. This is the anatomy of administrative law and, she argues, we must appreciate it in order to understand the subject.

Dr Bell’s is an important book, well worth reading from front to back and with care. It is the latest contribution to a growing field. Anglophone administrative law theory (outside the United States) has exploded over the last decade, with a multiplicity of monographs and edited collections devoted to critical analysis of the general principles of administrative law, mostly published under the same Hart Publishing/Bloomsbury banner under which the Public Law Conference designed by Professors Mark Elliott and Jason Varuhas has flown. It bears mentioning, I think, that female scholars have been to the forefront here, as Dr Bell’s book joins Dr Sarah Nason’s Reconstructing Judicial Reviewand Dr Janina Boughey’s The Newest Despotism?as one of the most thought-provoking recent contributions to the field (to which one could add symposium participant Professor Liz Fisher’s trail-blazing Risk Regulation and Administrative Constitutionalism).

Read the whole thing here.

This content has been updated on December 15, 2020 at 16:52.