The Rule of Law and the Justiciability of Prerogative Powers: A Comment on Black V. Chretien

By Sossin, Lorne | McGill Law Journal, February 2002 | Go to article overview

The Rule of Law and the Justiciability of Prerogative Powers: A Comment on Black V. Chretien


Sossin, Lorne, McGill Law Journal


In Black v. Chretien, the Ontario Court of Appeal addressed the issue of the courts' ability to review the exercise of Crown prerogative powers. While the court held that the exercise of prerogative powers is subject to judicial review in general, it stipulated that certain categories of prerogative powers are not reviewable. The court reasoned that judicial review is limited to instances where the nature and subject matter of the prerogative powers are amenable to the judicial process. In Conrad Black's lawsuit against the prime minister, the court round that the communication between the prime minister and the Queen represented an exercise of the prerogative to grant honours and that such a prerogative was non-justiciable.

The author is critical of the court's use of the doctrine of justiciability to shield executive officials from judicial review. He argues that the court adopted an undesirably formalistic approach to justiciability, with the consequence that a significant sphere of executive action lies beyond the reach of the rule of law. The author maintains that justiciability should solely depend on the legitimacy and capacity of the courts to adjudicate a matter. In his opinion, Black's claim against the prime minister was justiciable.

Dans l'arret Black c. Chretien, la Cour d'appel d'Ontario souleve le probleme du pouvoir qu'a la cour de reviser l'exercice des prerogatives de la Couronne. Alors que la cour a decrete que ces privileges sont sujets a la revision judiciaire de facon generale, elle a stipule que certaines categories de ces prerogatives etaient intouchables. La cour a juge que la revision judiciaire se limite aux instances ou la nature et le contenu des prerogatives de la Couronne sont sujet a etre entendus par le processus judiciaire. Dans cet arret, la cour a decide que la communication entre le premier ministre et la Reine representait un exercice de la prerogative d'octroyer des honneurs et que ce privilege n'etait pas sujet a la revision judiciaire.

L'auteur critique l'utilisation que fait la cour de la doctrine de justiciabilite pour proteger un officier executif contre la revision judiciaire. Il demontre que la cour a adopte une approche formaliste de la justiciabilite, approche indesirable, qui a pour consequence d'extraire de la primaute du droit une sphere importante de l'action executive. L'auteur maintient que la justiciabilite ne devrait dependre que de la legitimite et de la capacite de la cour de se prononcer. Selon lui, la demande de Black a l'egard du premier ministre etait justiciable.

Lorne Sossin, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto. I should note that I had some minor involvement in this case as a consultant to counsel for the appellant, and prior to that, expressed some criticism of the judgment of LeSage J. in the motion before the Ontario Superior Court. See L. Sossin, "Hoist on his Own Petard" The Globe and Mail (23 March 2000) A17. I wish to thank David Dyzenhaus, Julia Hanigsberg, Peter W. Hogg, Hudson Janisch, Patrick J. Monahan, and Mark Walters for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article.

Introduction

I. Judicial Review and the Crown Prerogative

II. Justiciability and the Crown Prerogative

III. The Implications of Black and the Rule of Law

Conclusion

Law is something more than mere will exerted as an act of power. It must be not a special rule for a particular person or a particular case ... Arbitrary power, enforcing its edicts to the injury of the persons and property of its subjects, is not law, whether manifested as the decree of a personal monarch or of an impersonal multitude. (1)

Introduction

The odd case of Black v. Chretien (2) may have resulted in a happy ending for the parties involved, but the judgment of the Ontario Court of Appeal represents, in my view, a mixed blessing for Canadian law relating to the judicial review of Crown prerogative powers. …

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