What is Admin Law?

Last Reviewed: October, 2023 Reviewed by: JES


The government has many different tasks and responsibilities to take care of, like making rules, providing services, and enforcing laws. Their job has become so complicated that the government needs help to do all these things effectively. So, it delegates, or gives, some of its powers to other organizations to help them out and make decisions on their behalf. These organizations “administer” the government’s laws and policies. The area of law that ensures the government and its agencies deal with people fairly and lawfully is called administrative law.

Learn More

Administrative Law in Canada, The Canadian Encyclopedia

Administrative law is important because it helps protect our rights and ensures that the government and its administrative organizations act in a fair and just way. It impacts many different areas of your daily life, such as when you:

  • Apply for a passport or license,
  • Apply for benefits, or
  • Have a dispute with your landlord or employer.

Agencies and Tribunals

The primary role of some administrative organizations called regulatory agencies is to make rules in their specific area. Other agencies called tribunals are primarily involved in resolving disputes in their specific area. Tribunals are given the power to investigate and resolve disputes that may have otherwise been dealt with by the courts. In fact you are far more likely to have a legal issue dealt with by an administrative agency or tribunal than a court. There are dozens of provincial, and federal organizations that make regulations and resolve disputes.

Benefits of Administrative Tribunals

Why would the government make a specialized tribunal when we already have the courts? Generally, governments create administrative tribunals because:

  • They are specialized: Tribunals only make decisions about the area they are in charge of whereas judges in courts are more generalists. For example, the Employment Standards Tribunal is an expert in employment standards. The expectation is that because they are specialized, they can make better and more efficient decisions.
  • They are cheaper and more efficient: While courts are very good at protecting the rights of the people who come to them, they are also very expensive and slow. Administrative tribunals do not have all the same procedural protections as courts and so cost less and take less time to make a decision.
  • They can be innovative: Because they are specialized and they do not have to follow the strict rules of court, they have the opportunity to come up with innovative ways of resolving disputes.

But wait, don’t I want all the procedural protections like in court?

The courts have very high standards of fairness and are very good at protecting the rights of the people who come before them. They are also expensive and slow. If your case is worth less than the cost of bringing it to court, then you might decide it is not worth bringing the case at all. The complicated procedures can be a major barrier as well. You could hire a lawyer to help, but again, they are expensive. Government creates administrative tribunals to deal with specific issues more effectively and affordably than the courts.

If someone owes you $4000, going to trial at BC Supreme Court to get it back is expensive and complicated. It will likely cost far more than $4000 (think closer to $40,000)! Instead, the BC Government created the Civil Resolution Tribunal for small claims under $5000. The process is online or over the phone, costing a little over $100 to file. While it's convenient and affordable, there are fewer procedural protections like the right to appeal (though you can still apply for Judicial Review in BC Supreme Court) or have an in-person hearing.

Important Admin Law Concepts

  • Rule of Law: Administrative organizations are created by federal, provincial, or municipal government laws. They can only act or make decisions within the power delegated or given to them by the laws that create them.
  • Discretion: The power to choose between two or more options, using professional judgment. Different decision makers have different scopes of discretion. In administrative law, the use of discretion must be consistent with the purpose of the legislation the decision maker is carrying out.
  • Fairness: It's important for everyone to be treated fairly. Administrative law aims to make sure that when the government or other organizations make decisions, they give everyone a chance to explain their side and listen to their concerns. This is called procedural fairness. What this looks like depends on the type of decision being made so go to Duty to be Fair to learn more.
  • Review: If someone thinks that a decision made by the government or an organization is unfair or not following the rules, they can ask for a review of the decision. Many agencies and tribunals have internal review processes. If those are not satisfactory, you can make a complaint to the Ombudsperson as well as ask the courts to do a Judicial Review to look at the decision and decide if it was made correctly and fairly. See Appealing Decisions to learn more.
  • Ombudsperson: The Ombudsperson independently investigates complaints from the public who feel they've been treated unfairly by public public authorities. They also provide general oversight of the administrative fairness of government processes. There is a BC Ombudsperson and several Federal Ombuds who deal with a variety of areas.

Learn More

Rule of Law, LexisNexis Canada

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