Casual Legal: Administrative decision-making

By Emma Banfield 
Reynolds Mirth Richards Farmer LLP
Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Service Provider

Administrative law, constitutional law, and criminal law are three areas of public law where governments and their citizens interact.

The federal and provincial governments delegate many of their law-making powers, as well as the ability to implement and administer those laws, to administrative agencies. Where disputed matters are adjudicated by an administrative tribunal, the tribunals may not act outside the scope of their delegated authority. Examples of administrative tribunals in a municipal context include Assessment Review Boards, Subdivision and Development Appeal Boards, and the Land and Property Rights Tribunal.

When hearing and adjudicating a dispute, administrative tribunals must bear in mind the two primary principles of natural justice. First, the right to know the case against oneself, and second, the right to appear before an unbiased decisionmaker. If either of these two principles is contravened, the decision does not comply with the rules of natural justice and the decision may be overturned. Even an appearance of bias may be enough to compromise a decision.

Administrative decisionmakers must also respect the principles of procedural fairness. In particular: 

  • Factual issues and allegations should be provided in sufficient detail and with sufficient notice to enable a party to prepare a response 
  • Relevant documents used by a decisionmaker in determining a case must be disclosed to both parties 
  • Undue delay in hearing a matter should be avoided 
  • Notice of a hearing, including a time and place, should be provided to parties to allow them sufficient time to prepare 
  • A case should not be heard in the absence of one party 
  • Each party should have a reasonable opportunity to present their case 
  • Parties should be given a reasonable opportunity to ask questions of witnesses.

Where an allegation is made that the procedure followed by an administrative tribunal was unfair, a court will consider a number of context specific factors, including:

  • the nature of the decision being made and the process that was followed 
  • the nature of the statute and statutory scheme under which the administrative tribunal operates 
  • the importance of the decision to the person(s) affected 
  • the legitimate expectations of the person(s) challenging the decision 
  • the procedural choices of procedure made by the tribunal itself.  

Administrative bodies have an increasingly broad presence in the lives of Albertans, and it is important to remember the power they hold requires attention to the ever-important principles of natural justice and procedural fairness.

To access Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Helpline, Alberta Municipalities members can call toll-free to 1-800-661-7673 or send an casuallegal [at] (email) to reach the municipal legal experts at Reynolds Mirth Richards and Farmer LLP. For more information on the Casual Legal Service, please call 310-MUNI (6864) or send an riskcontrol [at] (email) to speak to Alberta Municipalities Risk Management staff. Any Regular or Associate member of Alberta Municipalities can access the Casual Legal Service.

DISCLAIMER: This article is meant to provide information only and is not intended to provide legal advice. You should seek the advice of legal counsel to address your specific set of circumstances. Although every effort has been made to provide current and accurate information, changes to the law may cause the information in this article to be outdated.