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Judicial Review Pt-4

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We have been pursuing this topic for the last few weeks, and by now you would conclude that judicial review is an important tool that is available to the ordinary citizens against the powerful authorities that work on behalf of the state. Persons throughout the ages have philosophized about the powers of the State. One English philosopher, Thomas Hobbs, who lived in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, thought that man without a government would resort to a condition which he calls the ‘state of nature’.{{more}} In this state, he would have the license to do as he pleases. This would lead to conflict and wars. Life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” Man, therefore, needs a ”leviathan”, that is, a huge and powerful state to keep him in check. However, recognizing how powerful the state could become judicial review has made its way through the common law and has been holding its own under the umbrella of public law. Last week we looked at the various ways by which an authority could exceed its powers. This week we will continue to look at some of the reasons why judicial review would be necessary.

Improper Delegation of Power

If an authority is given certain duties to perform, and it specifically says that those powers are not to be delegated, but the authority proceeds to pass those powers to another or allows someone else to use those powers, he /she would have been ultra vires the law. Generally speaking, judicial and legislative powers cannot be delegated, but administrative power could be. If a particular aspect of a functionary power must be exercised by the person in the position, then the law would stipulate that that aspect cannot be delegated.

Abuse of Discretion

You have heard the word “discretion” used from time to time in relation to the court. You might have heard that a judge or a magistrate has discretion. The word means having an option or freedom to choose certain options. It is not a wide power to do as he wishes. The choice must be within the law. The word “may” is used on occasion to indicate that an authority has discretion. This is in contrast to the word “shall”, which is mandatory, and whenever it is used it means that an authority has no discretion. A public authority who has discretion must exercise that discretion reasonably and in accordance with the law. If he uses his discretion wrongfully he would have abused his powers.

How does an authority abuse its discretion?

Where an authority has to use its discretion in exercising its powers but takes into account irrelevant or immaterial considerations he would have abused his discretion. This means that authorities with discretion must only take into account material considerations. Most matters on this area in Caribbean Courts are concerned with licences, and especially liquor licences. The court has given some guidelines as to what is material. For example, an authority, in considering whether to issue a liquor licence, must look at the number of shops in the area, whether police supervision is possible, the character and history of the applicant among others.

Improper purpose

The authority would exceed its power if it uses its power for an improper purpose. The statute which is laid down for the authority would always have a purpose. If the authority adheres to what is material to the issue then he would hardly be accused of having improper purpose.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.
E-mail address is: exploringthelaw@yahoo.com

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