Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Administrative Tribunal Definition:

Hybrid adjudicating authorities which render judicial decisions.

Related Terms: Administrative Law, Council, Commission, Deliberative Secrecy, Audi Alteram Partem, Nemo Judex In Parte Sua

Hybrid adjudicating authorities which straddle the line between government and the courts.

Administrative tribunals are often referred to as "Commission", "Authority" or "Board."

Between routine government policy decision-making bodies and the traditional court forums lies a hybrid, sometimes called a "tribunal" or "administrative tribunal" and not necessarily presided by judges. These operate as a government policy-making body at times but also exercise a licensing, certifying, approval or other adjudication authority which is "quasi-judicial" because it directly affects the legal rights of a person.

The spectrum between a court of law and a mere administrative body was outlined thus in Newfoundland Telephone, Justice Cory of Canada's Supreme Court, at ¶17, 18 and 27:

"Administrative boards play an increasingly important role in our society. They regulate many aspects of our life, from beginning to end. Hospital and medical boards regulate the methods and practice of the doctors that bring us into this world. Boards regulate the licensing and the operation of morticians who are concerned with our mortal remains. Marketing boards regulate the farm products we eat; transport boards regulate the means and flow of our travel; energy boards control the price and distribution of the forms of energy we use; planning boards and city councils regulate the location and types of buildings in which we live and work. In Canada, boards are a way of life. Boards and the functions they fulfil are legion.

"Some boards will have a function that is investigative, prosecutorial and adjudicative.

"It can be seen that there is a great diversity of administrative boards. Those that are primarily adjudicative in their functions will be expected to comply with the standard applicable to courts. That is to say that the conduct of the members of the board should be such that there could be no reasonable apprehension of bias with regard to their decision. At the other end of the scale are boards with popularly elected members such as those dealing with planning and development whose members are municipal councillors. With those boards, the standard will be much more lenient."

In Caledon, the tribunal remarked that a judicial tribunal hears evidence, makes findings of fact and applies the law. An administrative tribunal hears evidence, makes findings of fact and applies policy.

In Shell, the Court wrote:

"An administrative tribunal may act judicially, but still remain an administrative tribunal as distinguished from a Court, strictly so called."

Many of the distinctions found in older law reports between an administrative tribunal and a judicial tribunal no longer apply. It was thought, when administrative law was in its formative years, that a tribunal was either administrative or judicial. For example, the oft-cited 1934 case of Re Ashby:

"The distinguishing mark of an administrative tribunal is that it possesses a complete, absolute and unfettered discretion and, having no fixed standard to follow, it is guided by its own ideas of policy and expediency. Hence, acting within its proper province and observing any procedural formalities prescribed, it cannot err in substantive matters because there is no standard for it to follow and hence no standard to judge or correct it by."

Now, as stated in the 1990 case, Newfoundland Telephone (above), it is recognized that most administrative tribunals hover somewhere in between and are in any event, subject to the rules of natural justice such as, for example, audi alteram partem and nemo judex, and their decisions are reviewable by a superior court in limited circumstances (for example, if the administrative tribunal decision is patently unreasonable).


  • Apsit v. Manitoba [1934] O.R. 421; also at 62 C.C.C. 132, [1934] 3 D.L.R. 565 and [1934] O.W.N. 335
  • Re Caledon 2 OMBR 1 (1970)
  • Newfoundland Telephone Co. v. Newfoundland (Public Utilities Board) [1992] 1 S.C.R. 623; also at 4 Admin. L.R. (2d) 121, 134 N.R. 241, 89 D.L.R. (4th) 289, , 95 Nfld. & P.E.I.R. 271, 301 A.P.R. 271 and J.E. 92-380
  • Re. Ashby (1934) O.R. 421
  • Shell Co. of Australia v. Federal Commr. of Taxation, [1931] 2 W.W.R. 231and [1931] A.C. 275
  • Spooner Oils Ltd. v. Turner Valley Gas Conservation Board [1932] 3 W.W.R. 477, [1932] 4 D.L.R. 750

Categories & Topics:

Always looking up definitions? Save time with our search provider (modern browsers only)

If you find an error or omission in Duhaime's Law Dictionary, or if you have suggestion for a legal term, we'd love to hear from you!