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  • adamdperry 10:14 am on December 4, 2019 Permalink | Reply  

    Enforcing principles, enforcing conventions 

    Did the UK Supreme Court enforce a constitutional convention in Miller (No 2)? Most writers say no. I say yes. 

    Miller (No 2)

    I won’t go through the case in detail. For my purposes three points matter. 

    First, the UKSC says that there is a constitutional ‘principle of Parliamentary accountability’. It gives three examples of ministerial accountability in practice: (1) ministers’ duty to answer questions in Parliament; (2) ministers’ duty to appear before Parliamentary committees; and (3) Parliament’s opportunity to scrutinise delegated legislation.  

    Second, the court says that this principle imposes a ‘legal limit’ on the power to prorogue. Specifically, a decision to prorogue or to advise the monarch to prorogue Parliament is unlawful if it frustrates or prevents Parliament’s ability to carry out its function as the the body responsible for supervising the executive, without reasonable justification. By ‘supervising’ it is clear the Court means to include holding the executive to account. 

    Third, the Court makes almost no mention of constitutional conventions by name. In particular, it does not discuss the convention of ministerial accountability. 

    (More …)
     
  • adamdperry 4:45 pm on October 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply  

    The Pardon Paradox 

    Almost every constitution in the world confers a power to pardon.  Pardon powers are found in the constitutions of old states and new states, Western states and non-Western states, states with a Christian tradition and states without one. Pardon powers are part of the constitutions of states as diverse as France, Indonesia, Peru, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. 

    Pardon powers share several features. First, the exercise of the power has the result of lifting or lessening criminal liability. Second, the power achieves this result not by changing the law, but by setting it aside in a particular case. Third, the power is held by a branch of government other than the judiciary – the executive, normally, or the legislature, less commonly. Finally, in its traditional mould, a pardon power is wholly arbitrary. Its use is unreviewable and unconstrained. (For recent departures from this traditional form of the pardon power, see my post here.) 

    So understood, pardon powers seem to conflict with two of the most basic principles of constitutionalism. Contrary to the separation of powers, a pardon power gives to a branch of government other than the judiciary a role in determining criminal liability in particular cases. Contrary to the rule of law, a pardon power is traditionally neither controlled by nor ruled by law.  

    Hence the pardon paradox: one of the most common constitutional power is at odds with some of the most fundamental constitutional principles. Pardon powers are everywhere but seem to properly belong nowhere. I argue that the paradox has a solution. Appearances notwithstanding, pardon powers threaten neither the separation of powers nor the rule of law. My argument has three steps.

    (More …)
     
  • adamdperry 1:23 pm on February 27, 2018 Permalink | Reply  

    Why constitutional conventions aren’t laws (hint: it’s not why you think) 

    I’ve been lecturing lately on constitutional conventions, one of my favourite topics in the constitutional law course. A couple of weeks ago I sketched what I think is a new argument for why conventions aren’t laws. I’m reasonably confident of the argument, but far from certain, so I thought I’d share it more widely. If you spot any flaws, please let me know!

    (More …)

     
  • adamdperry 1:36 pm on December 15, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    A Bayesian Approach to Ouster Clauses 

    Parliament gives an official a power, and the official makes a decision you don’t like. So you go to a judge to have the decision reviewed. With any luck, the judge will agree with you and give you a remedy. That’s the normal way of things. But if Parliament is sovereign, then Parliament has the power to prevent the judge from reviewing the official’s decision. All Parliament has to do is include an “ouster clause”: a clause communicating its intention to make the official’s decisions unreviewable.

    In the past Parliament has enacted what looks like an ouster clause. It did that most famously in Anisminic Ltd v Foreign Compensation Commission. But judges have tended to say that what looks like an ouster clause is, on closer inspection, not an ouster clause. It seems as if Parliament wants to oust the courts, but really it doesn’t intend that. Now, the clause in Anisminic was a bit ambiguous. It wasn’t as clear as one would wish. So, ever since Anisminic, it’s been a matter of speculation what judges would do when faced with a more clearly drafted clause.

    With that as background, the interest in R (Privacy International) v Investigatory Powers Tribunal is understandable (DC | CA). It looks like exactly the sort of test case people were waiting for. There is a putative ouster clause, more clearly drafted than the one in Anisminic. What would judges do? Well, we know the Divisional Court and the Court of Appeal would do – they’ve both said that there is an ouster clause. As a result, they’ve found that certain decisions are immune from judicial review. But it’s likely that the case will be appealed to the Supreme Court, so we’re still waiting for the last word.

    I want to show that Bayes’ Theorem provides a helpful way to think of ouster clauses. Bayes’ Theorem is much-discussed in evidence law, but rarely invoked in statutory interpretation. I think it suggests – I don’t put it any more strongly – that Privacy International may have been wrongly decided. (More …)

     
  • adamdperry 12:56 pm on November 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    New Draft Paper: Plan B: A Theory of Judicial Review 

    I’m an administrative law scholar, but I often suffer from private law envy. In private law, I see lots of doctrinally-oriented theory. I don’t mean theories of this or that doctrine. (There are those, too, of course.) I mean theories of whole areas of law: tort law, contract law, and the law of unjust enrichment. I mean promissory theories of contract law, corrective justice-based theories of tort law, and the like. I’m not saying these theories succeed. For all I know they don’t. It’s the ambition that impresses me, because in administrative law, things could hardly be more different. There are articles proposing theoretical accounts of specific doctrines: legitimate expectations, say, or error of law. There is the endless, exhausted ultra vires debate. And that’s about it, theory wise. I’m not sure why this is. Maybe it’s that administrative law is a relatively young area. Maybe public law scholars are preoccupied with devolution, human rights, and now Brexit. In any case, there’s a gap, and I want to help fill it.

    In a new article I outline a theory of the most significant part of administrative law – the law of judicial review. Here’s the abstract:

    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.

    You can download the paper here.

    Comments and suggestions, no matter how small, are very welcome!

     
  • adamdperry 4:23 pm on September 26, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    New Draft Article: Judging Constitutional Conventions 

    I have a new draft article about constitutional conventions, co-authored with Farrah Ahmed (Melbourne Law School) and Richard Albert (Boston College Law School). The article is about how courts can, do, and should engage with constitutional conventions. Here’s the abstract:

    The study of constitutional conventions is anchored in an assumption that has so far remained unchallenged: Commonwealth courts will recognize and employ conventions but never enforce them. We show in this Article that the dominant view today is doubly mistaken: there is no such shared “Commonwealth approach” to the treatment of constitutional conventions nor do Commonwealth courts refrain from enforcing conventions. Drawing from Canada, India and the United Kingdom, we disrupt the foundations of the scholarly understanding of conventions by demonstrating that Commonwealth courts have recognized, employed and indeed also enforced conventions. Beyond this new discovery, we make the normative claim that Commonwealth courts sometimes should enforce conventions, an additional contrast between the dominant view and ours. 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, which transfer power from those who have legal power to those who can legitimately wield it. This new role of an executor court brings clarity, stability and predictability to the exercise of official powers that are rooted in constitutional convention rather than constitutional law.

    Download the SSRN version of the article here.

     
  • adamdperry 7:03 am on September 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    What’s so great about flexible policies? 

    If there were ever a prize for “least examined ground of judicial review”, I would nominate the flexibility rule. The flexibility rule says that administrative policies must be flexible not rigid. The rule is nearly a century old. It’s part of the law of judicial review in England and Wales, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and many other common law jurisdictions. It’s invoked in case after case. And yet the rule has received hardly any serious scrutiny. Judges rarely question it. Academics rarely write about it.

    This neglect extends to the rule’s justification. Take the case of British Oxygen Co v Minister of Technology. The Board of Trade had a discretionary power to make grants for equipment purchases. To manage all the applications it received, the Board made a policy not to make grants for purchases of less than £25. British Oxygen had purchased a lot of oxygen cylinders for £20. The company didn’t quite fit under the policy, but it applied for a grant anyway. The Board refused, and the company went to court, arguing that the Board hadn’t taken into account the particulars of its case. The House of Lords ultimately sided with the Board. But it did so because it believed that the Board had ‘carefully considered’ the company’s application. Had the Board’s policy been rigid, British Oxygen would have won.

    British Oxygen is a famous case. It’s probably the leading case on the flexibility rule. Yet the House of Lords never explains the rationale for the rule. So I wonder: what’s so great about flexibility? What’s so terrible about rigidity? What, if anything, is to be said for the flexibility rule? (More …)

     
  • adamdperry 1:57 pm on September 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    New Draft Paper: Government Mercy 

    I’ve been working on a series of papers about mercy. My latest is a discussion of when the government acts mercifully, if indeed it ever does.

    Here’s the abstract:

    A pardon is an act of mercy according to the law, but is a pardon mercy in an ordinary or genuine sense? What distinguishes a pardon from a lenient judicial sentence, which is not mercy by the law’s lights? These are questions about what mercy as it is understood in law has to do with mercy as it is understood outside of law, and about who in government acts mercifully and when, if indeed anyone in government ever does. 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.

    Read the full paper here.

    The paper is a draft, and comments and suggestions, no matter how small, are very welcome!

     
  • adamdperry 3:04 pm on July 31, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    New Paper in the CLJ: The Flexibility Rule in Administrative Law 

    I’m pleased to say that I have an article just out in the Cambridge Law Journal: ‘The Flexibility Rule in Administrative Law’. I hope to put up a longer post summarising the article soon, but for now, here’s the abstract:

    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.

    The published version of the paper is here. There’s a draft version here. Comments and suggestions are very welcome!

     
  • adamdperry 3:44 pm on June 1, 2017 Permalink | Reply  

    New Paper in the OJLS: Constitutional Statutes 

    Farrah Ahmed and I have a new paper out in the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies: ‘Constitutional Statutes’.

    This is our second paper on constitutional statutes. Back in 2012, in BH v Lord Advocate, the Supreme Court suggested that constitutional statutes could only be repealed expressly, not by implication. In 2015, Farrah and I published a paper in CLJ, ‘The Quasi-Entrenchment of Constitutional Statutes’ (published | draft), criticising the notion that judges can, on their own initiative, immunise statutes from implied repeal.

    That first paper was mainly critical and negative. In this new paper, Farrah and I focus on the positive. We set out a definition of a constitutional statute. We also say how courts should (as opposed to shouldn’t) treat constitutional statutes. Here’s the abstract:

    In recent years, British courts have treated constitutional statutes differently from ordinary statutes. This article sets outs to explain: (i) how courts have treated constitutional statutes differently from ordinary statutes; (ii) what a constitutional statute is; and (iii) 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.

    Here’s the paper: published | draft.

     

     
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