Administrative Law

… a core term in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100


Cowan and Kuttner, writing in the Canadian Encyclopedia (reference below), describe administrative law as “one of the 3 basic areas of public law dealing with the relationship between government and its citizens, the other 2 being constitutional law and criminal law.” (See Constitutional Law and Criminal Law.)

Cowan and Kuttner note that:

“The major purpose of administrative law is to ensure that the activities of government are authorized by Parliament or by provincial legislatures, and that laws are implemented and administered in a fair and reasonable manner. Administrative law is based on the principle that government action, whatever form it takes, must (strictly speaking) be legal, and that citizens who are affected by unlawful acts of government officials must have effective remedies if the Canadian system of public administration is to be accepted and maintained.

Delegation and review

Cowan and Kuttner describe the role of administrative law in the delegation of powers to administrative bodies, and the right of appeal to tribunals and courts as follows:

“The complex nature of the modern state is such that elected representatives are not capable of passing laws to govern every situation. Many of their lawmaking powers, as well as the power to administer and implement the laws, are therefore delegated to administrative agencies. These agencies are involved in virtually every area of government activity and affect ordinary citizens in many ways, whether these citizens be home owners needing a building permit to erect a new room, injured employees seeking workers’ compensation, farmers selling their produce, or owners of a trucking company wishing to transport goods between Vancouver and Montréal.

“… delegating legislation defines the powers to be allocated to the agency (or minister) and sets forth the requirements to be met before the authority may act. Where entitlement to a government benefit depends upon the establishment of certain disputed facts or the interpretation of a statute, the applicable legislation will sometimes provide for a hearing before a group of officials (constituted as a board or tribunal) who will make the final decision. In some cases, a decision of the board or administrative tribunal can be reviewed by the courts if there is an error of law or a more serious error of fact.

“… If citizens feel that an administrative authority has made a decision affecting them that violates a constitutional, statutory or common-law principle, they may ask a court of law to review the actions of the authority. Canadian courts will only exercise their control over administrative authorities if the authority exceeds its jurisdiction, if it makes a decision which is patently unreasonable or if it follows improper or unfair procedures.” [See Procedural Fairness and Natural Justice.]

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Courts, Tribunals, and Commissions (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.


J.G. Cowan and Thomas Kuttner (2013), Administrative Law, Canadian Encyclopedia, at, accessed 7 November 2016.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 7 November 2016.