Judicial Review: Setting Aside Decisions For 'Unreasonableness'

The 2010 Supreme Court decision in Meadows v The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform [2010] IESC 3 clarified the extent to which a decision of an administrative decision-maker might successfully be set aside by way of judicial review on the basis of a lack of proportionality, as opposed to the previous, higher-threshold, bases of utter unreasonableness or irrationality.

Meadows was, at the time, described by one commentator as an "...important watershed, which [could] be expected to lead to significant further developments in judicial review in the coming years...".

In a series of articles, spread over this e-zine and coming e-zines, we explain judicial review of discretionary decision-making on the basis of "unreasonableness", trace the developments up to, and including the Meadows decision, and describe what has happened in its aftermath. We hope that this will give you a context for judicial review and the doctrine of reasonableness, as well as guiding you in avoiding acts or omissions which might serve to render your decision-making vulnerable to judicial review on this basis.

The Context – Discretionary Power – Separation of Powers

As readers will be aware, the Oireachtas from time to time confers discretionary decision-making powers and functions on a variety of administrative or quasi-judicial decision-making bodies. These bodies range from those with no special technical or other special experience or expertise, to those with notable experience and expertise in particular areas.

The intention of the Oireachtas is that such bodies exercise the discretion conferred on them within the envisaged bounds. The intended breadth or narrowness of any discretionary decision-making power can be identified from the statutory provisions providing for it, but there will usually be some measure of discretion, and therefore, some envisaged range of decisions a body was intended to be free to make. Moreover, in the case of expert bodies, the intention of the Oireachtas is that the benefit of their particular expertise and experience be brought to bear on the particular decision-making concerned.

Therefore, it is important, from a constitutional, separation of powers, standpoint, to ensure that those bodies intended by the Oireachtas to exercise particular, substantive, decision-making functions, in fact end up doing so with the level of freedom and expert input intended. In that regard, it is important that the courts do not, in effect...

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