THE CONSTITUTIONAL FOUNDATIONS OF JUDICIAL REVIEW: CONCEPTUAL CONUNDRUM OR INTERPRETATIVE INQUIRY?
|T.R.S. Allan a1|
a1 Reader in Legal and Constitutional Theory, University of Cambridge; Fellow of Pembroke College.
THE essay questions the sense and purpose of current debate over the coherence of the ultra vires doctrine. It argues that the dispute is mainly semantic, serving to conceal rather than illuminate genuine questions about the nature and legitimacy of judicial review. If the doctrine’s opponents are right to emphasise the common law basis of the relevant standards of legality, abstractly conceived, the ultra vires school is equally right to insist that, in a statutory context, legislative intention is critical to the
application of such standards. To connect the present debate with significant issues of substance, it would have to be recast as one between those favouring a “normativist” grounding of judicial review in the rule of law, on the one hand, and their “functionalist” or “pluralist” opponents, generally hostile to judicial review, on the other. The futility of the present debate is revealed by the simultaneous adherence of both sides to an integrated “rule of law” perspective. A useful analysis of the foundations of judicial review, capable of illuminating issues of substance, must explore the true meaning of the interrelated concepts of parliamentary sovereignty and the rule of law. No attack on the “empty formalism” of the ultra vires doctrine can carry conviction while at the same time affirming the doctrine of absolute parliamentary sovereignty, a doctrine equally malleable in the hands of judicial interpreters of statute, guided by common law precepts.