Democratizing Common Law Constitutionalism

By Fox-Decent, Evan | McGill Law Journal, September 2010 | Go to article overview

Democratizing Common Law Constitutionalism


Fox-Decent, Evan, McGill Law Journal


Common law constitutionalism is the theory that legal principles such as fairness and equality reside within the common law, are constitutive of legality, and inform (or should inform) statutory interpretation on judicial review. This article looks to Justice Rand's judgment in Roncarelli v. Duplessis to develop a democratic and relational conception of common law constitutionalism. By "democratic" the author means a version of the theory that governs judicial review but which is available to frontline decision makers independently of the history and contemporary practice of review. By "relational" the author means a theory that presupposes a trust-like and legally significant relationship between public authorities and the persons subject to their power.

Under the democratic and relational theory, the legality of administrative action is assessed in light of legal principles constitutive of the trust-like relationship and without reference to the separation of powers. These principles flow from the trust-like nature of the relationship and the implications of working out how public authorities can hold discretionary power over individuals without subjecting them to domination or instrumentalization.

Le constitutionnalisme de common law est la theorie selon laquelle les principes juridiques tels que l'equite et l'egalite resident dans la common law, sont constitutifs de la legalite et guident (ou devraient guider) l'interpretation des lois lors du controle judiciaire. Cet article se base sur le jugement du juge Rand dans l'affaire Roncarelli c. Duplessis pour developper une conception democratique et relationnelle du constitutionnalisme de common law. Par << democratique >>, l'auteur entend une version de la theorie qui gouverne le controle judiciaire mais qui est mise a la disposition des principaux decideurs independamment de l'histoire ou de la pratique contemporaine du controle. Par << relationnelle >>, l'auteur entend une theorie qui presuppose une relation quasi-fiduciaire et significative d'un point de vue juridique entre les autorites publiques et les personnes qui sont assujetties a leur pouvoir.

Selon la theorie democratique et relationnelle, la legalite de l'action administrative est examinee a la lumiere des principes juridiques constitutifs de la relation quasi-fiduciaire et sans faire reference a la separation des pouvoirs. Ces principes sont issus non seulement de la nature quasi-fiduciaire de la relation, mais aussi de la recherche d'une facon pour les autorites publiques de detenir un pouvoir discretionnaire sur les individus sans toutefois les assujettir a la domination ou a l'instrumentalisation.

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Introduction

 I. The Constitution of Discretion
    A. The Rights/Privileges Distinction
    B. The Separation of Powers and Judicial Activism
    C. The Content and Legal Nature of the Obligation
       in Roncarelli
    D. Normative Independence from Judicial Review
II. Reframing Common Law Constitutionalism

Conclusion

Introduction

Common law constitutionalism is the theory that legal principles such as fairness and equality reside within the common law, are constitutive of legality, and inform (or should inform) statutory interpretation on judicial review. (1) Because the principles of the common law are settled through the gradual accretion of judicial precedents, they are presumed to embody the. deep-seated values of the community. Judges are thus entitled to rely on those principles when they perform their rule of law duty and read down statutes to keep the administration in check. Common law constitutionalism, in other words, is usually understood as a theory about the rule of law and the role of judges as the rule of law's guardians.

Justice Rand's judgment in Roncarelli v. Duplessis (2) has become the Canadian standard-bearer for the rule of law. His reigning in of Duplessis's abuse of discretionary power sits comfortably with the conventional understanding of common law constitutionalism, as depicted above. …

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