Can the law exclude procedural fairness?

In previous publications, I have touched on the importance of procedural fairness in administrative decision making. Today, I will briefly discuss whether the requirement for such a decision maker to accord by the rules of procedural fairness can be excluded by statute.

There will always be a duty for an administrative decision maker to accord to the rules of procedural fairness unless there is “clear and contrary legislative intention“. Procedural fairness may be excluded through statutory construction however the courts in Australia increasingly view legislation in a way that implies that a duty to afford procedural fairness exists on the decision maker even where legislation may ambiguously limit such a common law right.

This implied judicial view seems to have been adhered to since the judgement by the High Court in Saeed v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship 2010 (Saeed) where Gleeson CJ stated that procedural fairness is “protected by the principle of legality“.

Gleeson CJ’s statement in Saeed has been interpreted by some academic commentators as “the Court having accorded constitutional status on the principle“.

The principle of legality governs the relationship between Parliament, the Executive and the Courts. It is often associated with the “presumption that Parliament does not intend to interfere with the fundamental common law rights, freedoms and liberties of its citizens“. Procedural fairness can be seen as one of those fundamental “common law rights” as was stated by Gleeson CJ in Saeed.

In Attorney-General (SA) v Corporation of the City of Adelaide [2013] HCA 3, Heydon J said:

“The ‘principle of legality’ holds that in the absence of clear words or necessary implication the courts will not interpret legislation as abrogating or contracting fundamental rights or freedoms. For that principle, there are many authorities, ancient and modern, Australian and non-Australian”.

In conclusion, the legislature could limit the application of procedural fairness. However, procedural fairness is a common law right that is the cornerstone to fair administrative decision making and the courts are not, on the face, willing to forgo this fundamental right especially where legislation is not abundantly clear on the limitation of procedural fairness.

Written by Farhan Rehman.
Director, RSG Lawyers and Associates. 
www.rsglaw.com.au

Footnotes available upon request. 

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