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The Australian National University

Re-Evaluating the Doctrine of Deference in Administrative Law

10.22145/flr.45.4.6
Janina Boughey (2017) 45 (4)

It is frequently said that Australian administrative law does not have, and cannot accommodate, a doctrine of deference. These statements, from judges and commentators, tend to cite the High Court’s decision in Corporation of the City of Enfield v Development Assessment Commission as authority. In that case, the High Court of Australia indicated that Australia’s strict separation of powers, as manifested by the legality/merits distinction, does not allow courts to defer to administrative bodies in determining the meaning of ambiguous statutory provisions. Since Enfield, there have been considerable developments in the application, and theorisation, of deference across the common law world. This article examines developments in the UK and Canada, and argues that they show that there is no single ‘doctrine’ of deference—deference is applied in administrative law in a range of ways. I argue that some of the ways in which Canadian and UK courts apply deference are not dissimilar from the principles Australian courts already apply in reviewing executive action. I argue that Australian law may benefit from greater attention to, and wider application of, these deferential principles, in order to curb judicial intrusion into administrative discretion.
 

Vol 45, Issue 4, 2017

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