I started out interested in public law, then I got absorbed in jurisprudence for quite a while. Now I research mainly at the intersection of the two areas. I like taking philosophical ideas about concepts relevant to law (eg, rules, powers, and mercy) and using them to deepen our understanding of public law doctrines (eg, about parliamentary sovereignty, the Crown’s prerogative, pardons). I co-author with Farrah Ahmed, Richard Albert, James Edwards, and Adam Tucker.
Works in Progress
‘Interpretive Theory in Public Law’ (with F. Ahmed)
‘Law’s Boundaries’ (draft)
I argue that there is a pro tanto reason for constitutions to confer a power to pardon. I also argue that, in some circumstances, pardons ought to be granted inconsistently, that is, in some but not all cases which are alike in their morally and legally relevant features.
‘The Power to Forgive’ (with J. Edwards) (SSRN)
What is it to forgive? The dominant view is that A forgives B if and only if A undergoes the right kind of emotional change. This view should be rejected: it counts too few acts as forgiveness, too many people as potential forgivers, and fails to explain the normative differences that forgiveness can make. Instead, we should endorse a pluralist view, according to which A forgives B if and only if A either (1) undergoes the right kind of emotional change or (2) makes the right kind of declaration. A declaration of the right kind is an exercise of a normative power, which reverses certain normative changes brought about by that for which B is forgiven. A has this power because it gives her a means of conserving the status quo ante of her personal relations with B. Undergoing the right kind of emotional change serves a similar conservative function, which unifies the two species of forgiveness. Endorsing this pluralist view helps to explain why only some people can forgive, why some acts may be unforgivable, and why both questions have been so vexed.
‘Plan B: A Theory of Judicial Review’ (SSRN)
There is no general theory of the grounds of judicial review (e.g., the rule against bias, the doctrine of legitimate expectations, unreasonableness). Here I try to fill the gap. My theory draws on ideas from the philosophy of law and the philosophy of action, but it’s a simple theory. Officials make decisions for the community. Their decisions are subject to requirements of instrumental rationality. Ideally, officials would figure out for themselves how to live up to these requirements. Because officials aren’t perfect, the law also has “Plan B”, which is for judges to ensure that officials do what rationality requires of them. The grounds of judicial review are simply the grounds on which it’s rational for officials to reconsider, retain, suspend, or apply their decisions. The “Plan B theory”, as I call it, doesn’t account for every detail of judicial review. Even so, the theory is powerful, parsimonious, fruitful, and sharply at odds with almost everything else written about judicial review.
In an earlier article, we disproved the three claims central to the dominant view in the study of constitutional conventions: that there is a shared “Commonwealth approach” to constitutional conventions; that Commonwealth courts will recognize and employ conventions but never enforce them; and that conventions are sharply distinguishable from rules of law. We drew from Canada, India, and the United Kingdom to demonstrate that Commonwealth courts have recognized, employed, and indeed also enforced conventions. In this article, we turn from the descriptive to the normative, arguing, again in contrast with the dominant view, that Commonwealth courts sometimes should enforce conventions. We argue that courts should act as executors of the will and judgment of constitutional actors, and limit themselves to enforcing only power-shifting conventions: conventions which transfer power from those who have legal power to those who can legitimately wield it. In playing this role, judges uphold the legitimate allocation of power—legitimate, not according to judges but according to constitutional actors themselves.
The study of constitutional conventions is anchored in three assumptions that have so far remained largely unchallenged: that there is a shared “Commonwealth approach” to constitutional conventions; that Commonwealth courts will recognize and employ conventions but never enforce them; and that conventions are always distinguishable from rules of law. After setting out a new taxonomy of modes of judicial engagement with constitutional conventions, we overturn each of these assumptions. We draw on recent case law from Canada, India, and the United Kingdom to show that there is no shared “Commonwealth approach” to the treatment of constitutional conventions. We show that some Commonwealth courts do, in fact, enforce conventions. Finally, we show that at least some constitutional conventions have crystallized into law. These insights disrupt much of what is foundational in the study of constitutional conventions.
Judges often give statutes strained interpretations. What makes an interpretation strained? What, if anything, justifies a strained interpretation? Is there always a point past which an interpretation would be too strained, or are there some interpretations which judges are entitled to adopt, whatever a statute says? I claim to answer these questions. Using the formula about conditional probability known as Bayes’ theorem, I offer a precise definition of a strained interpretation, and identify two reasons for strained interpretations. I claim that the case for strained interpretations is often stronger than is realised, and illustrate that claim with a novel defence of the House of Lords’ decision in Anisminic Ltd. v Foreign Compensation Commission. Finally, I suggest that even if a legislature is sovereign, there may be meanings which a legislature is unable to enact into law. Thus, there may be limits on even a sovereign legislature’s powers.
Here I propose a general analysis of mercy, then bring that analysis to bear on government action. Three features of my analysis are noteworthy. First, almost all existing analyses say that mercy is unconstrained in a normative sense, but I argue that mercy is unconstrained in the way that arbitrary power is unconstrained. Second, although it’s often assumed that mercy must be motivated by compassion, I show that mercy only requires acting with the intention to benefit the recipient. Third, my analysis says that mercy requires the giver of mercy to overcome a motivation to treat the recipient harshly. Given this analysis, few government acts are merciful, but pardon is an institutional approximation or analog of mercy.
Many scholars think that all conventions of the constitution emerge from the bottom up, out of the practices of constitutional actors. Here we develop the first systematic account of conventions that are imposed from the top down, through prescriptions by constitutional actors. We show that ‘top-down conventions’ (as we term them) can be created through the use of normative rule-making powers; that powers of the right kind are sometimes conferred by ‘bottom-up conventions’; that these powers are often exercised; and, as a result, that top-down conventions are increasingly common. We show, too, that as the formal, systematic, and intentional products of a small number of constitutional actors, top-down conventions are a potentially illegitimate form of constitutional regulation.
‘Standing and Civic Virtue’, Law Quarterly Review, 2018, vol. 134, pp. 239-256 (with F. Ahmed) (SSRN)
Some people who seek leave to apply for judicial review do not have a private interest in the matter to which their application relates; instead, they seek “public interest standing”. To be entitled to public interest standing, a claimant must bring the right sort of case. She must also be the right sort of person: she must have the right motive, the right background, the right knowledge and understanding, the right reputation, and so on. The relevance of a claimant’s case to public interest standing is obvious, but the identity of the claimant is not. Here we provide a rational reconstruction of the test for public interest standing, according to which civic virtue is essential for a claimant to obtain leave in the public interest. Our account explains the bulk of the case law on public interest standing, on the one hand, and goes some way towards justifying it, on the other.
The Indian Constitution gives the executive the power to pardon offenders. The Supreme Court of India has repeatedly held that the executive must not grant or refuse pardons capriciously or arbitrarily. I raise two worries about this line of authority. The executive has its pardon powers in part so that it can show mercy. In one sense, mercy is about doing justice despite what the law requires. Mercy in this sense is a threat to the rule of law, and caprice is the price of containing that threat. In another sense, mercy is about showing compassion despite what justice requires. Mercy in this sense is an act of grace, and caprice is the price of it being possible at all. By seeking to eliminate caprice, the Court has risked undermining the rule of law, and frustrating one of the aims of the Constitution.
Administrative officials are permitted to have policies as to the exercise of their discretionary powers, but those policies must be flexible, not rigid. The “flexibility rule”, as I call it here, is nearly a century old. Over time, it has become part of the furniture of judicial review: often used, rarely examined. That neglect has led to confusion, on display in recent cases. In this article I try to put the flexibility rule back on a sound footing. I argue, first, that the flexibility rule requires authorities to treat policies merely as rules of thumb. Second, the primary justification for the flexibility rule is neither legislative intent (as courts have said), nor the avoidance of error (as commentators tend to assume); it is the value of participation. Third, and as a result, the flexibility rule ought to apply to policies governing the use of prerogative and other non-statutory powers, as well as to policies governing the use of statutory powers.
In recent years, British courts have treated constitutional statutes differently from ordinary statutes. This article sets outs to explain: (1) how courts have treated constitutional statutes differently from ordinary statute; (2) what a constitutional statute is; and (3) why constitutional statutes should be treated differently from ordinary statutes. Courts have made it harder for ordinary statutes to repeal constitutional statutes by implication, and easier for constitutional statutes to repeal ordinary statutes by implication. A constitutional statute is a statute which regulates state institutions, and which possesses importance of a particular type that we describe. The nature of a constitutional statute largely – but not entirely – justifies the special treatment they have been given. These conclusions have wider implications, including for proposals to codify the British constitution.
‘Mercy and the Roles of Judges’ in J. Jacobs and J. Jackson (eds), Routledge Handbook of Criminal Justice Ethics (Routledge 2016) 255-266
‘The Crown’s Administrative Powers’, Law Quarterly Review, 2015, vol. 131, pp. 652-672 (SSRN)
In addition to its statutory and prerogative powers, the Crown has extensive administrative powers. The Crown’s administrative powers range from the power to form contracts to the power to circulate written material, and include powers to make ex gratia payments, convey property, and create policies. Much of the ordinary business of government falls under the Crown’s administrative powers, yet these powers are poorly understood. There are two existing accounts of the Crown’s administrative powers, but I show that both are unsound. I set out a better account, according to which the Crown’s administrative powers are of two sharply different types: (i) legal powers, which derive from the common law, and which extend to what a natural person can do and what the law permits; and (ii) non-legal powers, which stem from wide social recognition, and which extend beyond what a natural person can do or what the law permits. This ‘twofold account’ suggests several new ways of distinguishing the Crown’s administrative powers from its prerogative powers. It also suggests that the Crown’s administrative powers pose an unusual and serious threat to the rule of law.
One of HLA Hart’s main contributions to jurisprudence is his theory of social rules. Hart said, essentially, that a social rule exists if the members of a society act in some way and have a certain attitude. Most legal philosophers think that Hart’s account of this attitude is too general, however, and that his theory is overinclusive as a result. In this article, I draw on recent work in the philosophy of action to propose a more precise account of the relevant attitude, and a revised version of Hart’s theory. I claim that a social rule exists if the members of a society act in some way and ‘accept’ they ought to act this way, independent of their beliefs about the matter. One of the implications of this idea is that the attitude that underlies a social rule is closely analogous to a presumption or fiction about what ought to be done.
The British constitution is famously unentrenched: a law is not more difficult to alter or override simply because it is a law of the constitution. That may be about to change. In the largely overlooked 2012 case of H v Lord Advocate, the Supreme Court repeatedly said that the Scotland Act 1998 cannot be impliedly repealed due to its ‘fundamental constitutional’ status. These remarks were obiter dicta, but they reflect the considered view of the Supreme Court, and as such strongly suggest the path the law will take. Courts in the future are likely to treat constitutional statutes, like the Scotland Act, as susceptible to express repeal, but exempt from implied repeal. That would make constitutional statutes ‘quasi-entrenched’. In this article we argue that, as a judicial innovation, the quasi-entrenchment of constitutional statutes lacks a sound legal basis. Parliament can make its intention to repeal a constitutional statute clear without making it express, and judges cannot, on their own initiative, ignore Parliament’s clear decision to repeal even a constitutional statute. We conclude by identifying three types of situations in which constitutional statutes should be recognised as having been impliedly repealed.
The doctrine of legitimate expectations is a developing area of administrative law, and many issues remain outstanding, including the grounds of legitimate expectations. Promises, practices, and policies are the recognized grounds of legitimate expectations, but what is special about them? Why do they and only they give rise to legitimate expectations? The lack of an obvious answer has led some commentators to worry that the doctrine is ultimately incoherent. In this paper, we argue, first, that promises, practices, and policies each comprise or make applicable a certain type of rule, and second, that having a legitimate expectation is a matter of such a rule binding a public body to act in some way. This rule-based account provides a unified, economical explanation of the grounds of legitimate expectations that also sets the doctrine on a coherent foundation.
The Upper Tribunal (Administrative Appeals Chamber) held in Evans v Information Commissioner that certain correspondence between Prince Charles and government officials must be disclosed under freedom of information legislation. Much of the judgment was devoted to a discussion of the constitutional conventions applicable to Prince Charles, and the case provides a useful example of how conventions and laws can interact. In this note, I argue that the Upper Tribunal misunderstood how conventions are distinguished from one another, and misapplied the test for the identification of conventions.
‘Expertise, Deference, and Giving Reasons’, Public Law, 2012, vol. 2, pp. 221-230 (with F. Ahmed) (SSRN)
There is a consensus among courts and commentators on the grounds for a duty to give reasons in administrative law. Traditionally, the duty has been justified as a way to promote good decision-making, show respect for the parties, and reveal potential grounds for a challenge to the decision. We argue that this traditional picture is incomplete, because it omits two important considerations that favour giving reasons. Giving reasons can provide evidence that a decision-maker is a relative expert, and thus provide evidence of a reason to defer to the decision-maker. Giving reasons can also indicate a decision-maker’s findings on specific issues, making it possible for an appellate or reviewing body to selectively defer to it. Together these points show that concerns of deference are relevant to when administrative decision-makers should give reasons.
‘Review: Parliamentary Democracy in Crisis’, University of British Columbia Law Review, 2010, vol. 43, pp. 269-279
‘Unlucky Section 13: Sexual Activity Between Children and the Sexual Offences Act 2003’, King’s Law Journal, 2009, vol. 21, pp. 327-339