While “administrative law” might be an unknown concept to many, most individuals have likely encountered it at some point in their lives. Beyond interactions with government and regulatory officials, another common encounter with administrative law is through tribunals. Individuals may engage with a tribunal for various reasons, such as professionals facing an investigation or disciplinary proceeding, or an individual pursuing a human rights complaint.

However, administrative law doesn’t end at a tribunal. Often, tribunal decisions are appealed to the courts for a review of the decision. In these instances, the court will use specific legal principles to determine whether a decision was made appropriately and questions will arise regarding the appropriate administrative law standard of review.

This blog will provide an overview of administrative law, judicial review of administrative tribunal decisions, and the standard of review.

What is Administrative Law?

Administrative law covers relationships between individuals and the government, or organizations that act on behalf of the government. In some cases, administrative law also covers relationships between individuals. For example, if a renter brings a claim against their landlord, they would do so through the Landlord and Tenant Board.

What are Administrative Tribunals?

Administrative tribunals are entities that make initial decisions on administrative law matters. These tribunals are set up by either federal or provincial legislation and perform a wide range of tasks, including adjudication of certain disputes. Note that the powers of a tribunal are outlined in their governing legislation – to that end, different administrative tribunals may have different powers or perform different tasks.

Some of the more commonly-known administrative tribunals in Ontario include:

  • Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario
  • Landlord and Tenant Board
  • Ontario Civilian Police Commission
  • Social Benefits Tribunal
  • Law Society Tribunal

What are the Differences between Administrative Tribunals and Courts?

While administrative tribunals and courts may sound similar in theory, there are key differences between the two.

The primary difference is formality, as administrative tribunals operate less formally than the courts. Tribunals are often less expensive than going to trial. Furthermore, the tribunal decision-makers usually have specialized expertise in a particular area. For example, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario will be made up of tribunal members with extensive experience regarding the Human Rights Code and understand how to apply it to real-life situations. Tribunals are limited in their ability to make decisions beyond the scope of their expertise or their powers as outlined in their governing legislation. Judges, on the other hand, are expected to have a wide range of knowledge on various legal topics and are afforded greater discretion when making decisions.

Judicial Review of Administrative Law Decisions

While administrative tribunals and the courts do not serve the same purposes, the administrative law standard of review plays an important role in linking these two entities. If individuals wish to challenge the decision of an administrative tribunal and do not have any further recourse before that tribunal (such as the ability to have their decision reconsidered), they can seek judicial review of the decision. In a judicial review, the courts are called upon to determine whether the decision of an administrative tribunal was appropriate.

In Ontario, judicial reviews are typically heard in Divisional Court, but in some cases, they may be heard at the Superior Court of Justice.

Administrative Law and the Standard of Review

So, how do the courts determine whether an administrative tribunal’s decision was appropriate? Depending on the type of judicial review sought, this process will involve looking at the administrative tribunal’s decision and applying a standard of review to determine whether the decision was “reasonable” or “correct”.

Whether the court will apply the reasonableness or correctness standard depends on the circumstances. In some cases, the legislation that governs the tribunal in question will identify the administrative law standard of review. If the legislation does not identify the standard of review, then the court will look at previous cases to determine which standard to apply.

Reasonableness vs. Correctness

Typically, a court hearing a judicial review application will ask whether the administrative tribunal’s decision was “reasonable” and whether it “falls within a range of possible, acceptable outcomes which are defensible in respect of the facts and law.” This approach provides deference to the administrative tribunal’s decision. Even if the court would have come to a different decision, it will not interfere with the administrative tribunal’s decision so long as they determine that the tribunal’s decision was reasonable.

The other standard of review is correctness which the court will typically only apply in limited circumstances. Here, the court will instead ask what the “correct” outcome should have been rather than providing deference to the administrative tribunal’s decision.

What Happens if the Court Determines That a Decision is “Unreasonable” or “Incorrect”?

If, following a judicial review hearing, the court determines that the administrative tribunal’s decision was unreasonable, they will typically set aside the administrative tribunal’s decision and direct it to decide the case again while avoiding the previous errors made. The tribunal will set a new hearing date and a different member of the tribunal will give the case further consideration.

In rare cases, the court might substitute its own decision instead of sending the case back to the administrative tribunal for further review. However, this is not a common practice in Ontario.

Contact Campbells LLP for Exceptional Representation in Professional Regulation Matters

The process of judicial review and determining the appropriate standard of review is complex and heavily dependent on legislation and precedent. The lawyers at Campbells LLP are thorough, efficient, and focused on delivering the best possible outcome for every single client. We work hard to resolve your administrative law matter effectively and efficiently while minimizing any unnecessary stress. Our team is committed to providing clients with advice and representation related to administrative law and professional regulation. If you intend to challenge the decision of an administrative tribunal, contact us online or call our office at (905) 828-2247 to find out how we can assist.