Administrative agencies affect the rights of private parties either through adjudication or rule-making. Procedural fairness helps the agencies to arrive at judgments that are fair to all the parties in the case. Usually, the decision-maker is concerned with the method of analyzing the testimonies brought before them and other facts (“Procedural Fairness” 2). They pay very little attention to the results they get at the end of the process.
Agencies which choose appropriate procedures arrive at conclusions that both parties involved in the case consider to be fair. However, the procedures do not apply to all administrative decisions. They only apply when a party’s interest is likely to be negatively affected and when a party has a legitimate expectation (“Procedural Fairness” 2).
Principles of administrative law are relevant to democratic practice because they ensure efficient, economical, and just administration. Precisely, they create an opportunity for reconsideration and a review of the merits and weaknesses of administrative decisions (“What is Administrative Law?” par. 7). Principles of administrative law ensure that all government actions are legal and that the citizens affected by unlawful government acts have effective remedies (Cane 254).
Definition of Discretion
Administrative tribunals, commissions and boards have the power to exercise professional expertise and judgment in making decisions or performing official duties without strict adherence to statutes or regulations (Christie 750). Administrative decision-makers have all the freedom to use the facts presented before the court in making rulings they consider fair to all the subjects.
In other words, administrative decision-makers are free to make their judgments without the fear of revisions by the courts. The exercise of discretion ensures that administrative bodies act efficiently and effectively in their performance of public functions. Decision-makers are supposed to use discretion in good faith and for proper purposes (Christie 753). The discretionary decision-making power is not unfettered (Christie 754).
When reviewing an administrative decision, the court determines whether the administrative agency acted in good faith and for the intended purpose, complied with legislative procedure, regarded only relevant facts and disregarded irrelevancies, made decisions based on supporting evidence, and gave proper consideration to the merits of the case (Cane 254).
Courts assess discretionary powers on the basis of accountability (Christie 753). Decisions are discretionary only when there are higher powers to which the decision-maker is answerable.
Administrative decisions must comply with the expectations of the society. Administrative bodies need to comply with the ultra-vires doctrine. The decisions must be in agreement with the constitution, the penal code, administrative laws and other applicable legislations. In case the administrative agencies give a verdict that contravenes legal provisions, usually, they are said to have acted ultra-vires.
Definition of Credibility
Credibility alludes to the testimony of any of the parties or witnesses. Usually, administrative agencies determine the credibility of every testimony before considering it during the formulation of their judgments. The application of this term in the legal field refers to the accuracy, truthfulness, logic and sincerity of the testimony the parties give during adjudication (Christie 760).
Individuals must exhibit consistency, accuracy, sincerity and logic in order to convince the court that their statements are credible. In many instances, the process of determining the credibility of statements is very subjective except when the evidence contradicts known facts and logic. Administrative agencies only follow the provisions of appropriate statutes in coming up with their verdicts.
Administrative bodies should establish credibility by confirming that the parties giving the testimony are intelligent, have not been deceived, do not intend to tell lies and have probity (Christie 760). The agencies can only be sure about these qualities after assessing the quality of the testimony, the personality of the witness, other statements and the logic in the story presented in court (Christie 761).
The specific conditions needed for assessing these elements include putting all witnesses under oath, selecting disinterested witnesses, ascertaining the level of their disinterestedness and determining the level of their integrity through interviews and cross-examination.
Nevertheless, most tribunals frown upon cross-examination as they perceive it to be a hindrance, a necessary evil and a reluctant concession to lawyers (Cane 255). Thus, most tribunals opt for conversation with witnesses where answers are sought in a gentle manner. Regardless of the approach, the administrative body should ensure that the evidence provided by the parties is coherent or consistent.
Definition of Bias
Bias is the subjective inclination of the mind towards one side (Christie 740). Subjectivity is almost indispensable, but everyone tries to avoid it in order to see the correct picture of situations. In the case of administrative matters, some members of administrative bodies, usually, have preconceived conclusions in their minds by the time they start the hearings.
They do not critically analyze all the facts since they believe they already know what the verdict should be. However, bias does not mean the same thing as prejudice. Prejudice is not always part of bias, but bias is part of prejudice (Christie 739). The existence of bias drives administrative bodies into making decisions that are repugnant to justice.
Bias can be either actual bias or imputed bias (Cane 256). Actual bias involves there is actual indication that the decision-maker acted prejudicially in favor or against a party. Nevertheless, in practice, it is usually hard to prove an allegation of actual bias (Cane 257). Apparent bias occurs where the administrative decision-maker is not a party to a matter and does not have an interest in the outcome (Cane 257). However, the decision-maker gives rise to a suspicion of impartial treatment through his conduct or behavior.
Administrative bodies need to be free from an appearance of bias. In this regard, administrative decisions should be such that any reasonable person can make a conclusion that the administrative decision-makers acted independent of any factors that could interfere with their ability to make impartial decisions.
This principle derives from the right to impartial judgment and the natural justice principle of nemo judex in sua causa. Biased administrative decision-makers make strange remarks and decisions that contravene facts, laws, reason, fairness, and many other rules of justice. Such decisions affect the rights and interests of people.
The Extent of the Duty to Give Reasons
The duty to give reasons requires administrative decision-makers to make explanations of all the tenets of their judgments (Cane 67). It is an important aspect of the rules of natural and constitutional justice as well as principles of fair procedures for administrative decision makers to provide reasons for all administrative decisions that affect the rights and duties of private parties.
The duty to give reasons is perceived as an essential element of the rules of fair procedures as it ensures compliance with these rules. Giving reasons also acts as encouragement for decision-makers to act rationally and lawfully if they have to set out and explain the approach to the law, the conclusions of fact, and the factors that influenced their exercise of discretion.
The practical rationale of the duty to give reasons is that the party affected by an administrative decision can scrutinize the internal logic of the decision to ascertain whether it is capable of appeal or review.
Where there are no reasons provided, an adverse decision is more likely to result in suspicion of pre-determination, impartiality, bias, and unfairness. The other rationale behind the duty to give reasons is to ensure transparency of public administrations to the extent that justice is done and seen to be done. The duty to give reasons is also a basic element of democratic government – accountability.
When reviewing an administrative decision, the courts look at the key reasons and considerations on which the decision is based. Where there are conditions imposed, the courts also determine the major reasons for the imposition of any such conditions. The reasons need to be proper and adequate.
They must address the substantial issues of the case. In cases where reasons are not given, the aggrieved party may fail to understand the administrative decision. In the Indian case of Union of India v M.L. Capoor (1973), the court held that reasons must have a real connection between the facts considered and the conclusions reached.
Cane, Peter. Administrative law. Oxford University Press, 2011.
Christie, George. “An Essay on Discretion.”Duke Law Journal 7.5, (1986): 747-765. Print.
Procedural Fairness. PDF file.
The Duty to Give Reasons.
Union of India v M.L. Capoor (1973), 2 SCC 836.
What is Administrative Law?