Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Curial Deference Definition:

That general courts ought to defer to the rulings of specialized tribunals save exceptional circumstances.

Recognizing that the legislature has created specialized tribunals to deal with disputes in limited and specialized areas, the general courts of common law jurisdictions are loath to interfere and hear outright appeals of those tribunals. This, for a number of reasons: they don't want the work and they've not the specialized knowledge. Therefore, the principle of curial deference; to defer to the rulings of lower administrative tribunals.

In HSABC, Justice Southin of the British Columbia Court of Appeal wrote:

"Curial deference is a way of expressing the notion that when the Legislature sets up a specialized tribunal, invests it with broad powers and incorporates a privative clause into the enabling statute, it is telling the courts that it intends the tribunal to have the right, because it understands the subject-matter better than do judges, to make decisions which the judges might think to be wrong decisions.

"To put it another way, where, by the terms of its legislation, the Legislature requires curial deference, the courts are bound, where no constitutional question arises, to obey the Legislature and not subvert its intention."

In Clancey, Justice Puddester adopted these words, partly borrowed from Justice Cory of Canada's Supreme Court in Royal Oak Mines:

"... the concept of curial deference to the decisions of lower tribunals where those tribunals are intended - and considered - to have a degree of expertise and particular knowledge surrounding the issues on which they are mandated to adjudicate.

"The basis for this approach is the concept that administrative tribunals are set up to replace courts in areas where specific expertise and experience are required.

"It has been recognized that a labour board is a specialized tribunal which administers a comprehensive statute regulating the complex field of labour relations. The courts are expected to show deference to the expert knowledge and experience acquired by the board through its involvement and participation in developing the collective bargaining regime established by labour codes. If courts too easily characterize powers accorded to the board as provisions which limit jurisdiction then courts effectively usurp the role which Parliament, after careful consideration, accorded to the labour tribunal."

However, nor do the general courts wish to fully orphan the citizen to the administrative tribunal in cases of, for example, egregious abuse of process or fairness.

Each jurisdiction is different in the extent of curial deference given to administrative tribunals. In Canada, the threshold seems to change every few years. The threshold du jour appears to be that a court of general jurisdiction will not interfere with - aka will defer to - an administrative tribunal's decision unless the decision is patently unreasonable.

French: retenue judiciaire.


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