If you asked most people what they think of when they hear “legal case,” most would probably respond with a courtroom. Indeed, the idea of lawyers arguing their cases before a judge is one of the most common symbols of the legal system. 

But, often, cases are settled long before they go to trial. And, in some instances, a case won’t go before a judge at all. Instead, they’ll be heard by an administrative tribunal

Now, you’re probably wondering: what are administrative tribunals? 

Below, we’ll cover everything you need to know about administrative tribunals – a lesser-known but critical part of the Canadian legal system. 

What is Administrative Law? 

Unlike most legal cases, which deal with legal issues between individuals and corporations, administrative law deals with legal issues between individuals and government entities. 

Administrative law is based on the concept that governments must act fairly. If government actions negatively impact an individual, they will typically (but not always) handle the matter through administrative law processes. 

What is an Administrative Tribunal? 

Administrative tribunals make decisions on behalf of Canada’s federal and provincial governments. They are created through government legislation and can make decisions concerning various issues. 

Some administrative tribunals handle relatively routine decisions, such as licensing. Others may play a much more hands-on role in decision-making processes and function similarly to a judge. 

Examples of Administrative Tribunals

Some examples of administrative tribunals in Ontario include the following: 

  • Alcohol and Gaming Commission: a provincial regulatory agency responsible for regulating alcohol, cannabis, and horse racing. The Alcohol and Gaming Commission licenses and regulates establishments that serve liquor approves rules of gambling play, excludes persons from accessing gaming premises, and much more. 
  • Child and Family Services Review Board: a provincial regulatory agency responsible for conducting reviews and hearings on matters affecting children, youth, and families in Ontario. 
  • Landlord and Tenant Board: a provincial regulatory agency responsible for resolving disputes between landlords and tenants and handling eviction applications. 
  • License Appeal Tribunal: a provincial regulatory agency responsible for adjudicating applications and resolving disputes concerning compensation claims and licensing activities regulated by the provincial government. 
  • Ontario Human Rights Tribunal: a provincial regulatory body responsible for resolving claims of discrimination and harassment brought under the Human Rights Code

What is an Administrative Tribunal Hearing Like? 

As administrative tribunals are “quasi-judicial,” they function like a court with some exceptions. 

Ultimately, administrative tribunals are creatures of statute. Their governing legislation sets out the powers of the tribunal, how they can make decisions, and their areas of expertise. 

Despite this, administrative tribunals are less formal than the courts. Because they don’t follow many of the strict requirements that a court requires, there can be some flexibility in how the administrative tribunal makes its decision.

How Do Administrative Tribunals Make Decisions? 

Providing a “one-size-fits-all” description of how administrative tribunals make decisions is tricky. Every administrative tribunal is different – primarily because their governing legislation specifies what powers they have and how they make decisions. 

Nonetheless, we’ve provided an example below to illustrate what the process can look like. 

If you’re appearing before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, you will receive a Notice of Hearing providing the date and format of the hearing. After receiving that notice, you will have 21 days to provide any relevant documents to the other party. Depending on the circumstances, you may also participate in alternative dispute resolution processes, such as mediation or arbitration, to attempt to resolve your dispute before the hearing. 

At the hearing (with the assistance of your lawyer), you will present your case, introduce evidence, and question witnesses. In that sense, a hearing at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal looks a lot like a court case. 

After the hearing, the tribunal will make a decision and, if applicable, order remedies, such as monetary compensation. 

To learn more about the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal and how they conduct hearings, visit their page on the Application and Hearing Process

What Remedies Can Administrative Tribunals Provide? 

You may have access to many of the remedies we’re accustomed to in a “traditional” courtroom when appearing before administrative tribunals, depending on the powers and governing legislation of the tribunal. 

Using the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal as an example, again, parties can claim monetary compensation or seek other forms of relief, such as “non-monetary compensation” (for example, ordering a company to build an accessible entrance to their building) or orders promoting compliance with the Human Rights Code (for example, requiring a company to conduct human rights training with all employees). 

What Happens if I Disagree with an Administrative Tribunal’s Decision? 

If you disagree with an administrative tribunal’s decision, you may have the option to seek “judicial review” (again, it depends on the governing legislation). In these cases, the court hears your application and decides whether the administrative tribunal decides appropriately. 

There are specific grounds under which an individual can seek judicial review of an administrative tribunal’s decision. Two of the more common grounds for seeking judicial review are as follows: 

  • The decision lacked “procedural fairness” (challenging the way the administrative tribunal made its decision) 
  • The decision was “unreasonable” or “incorrect” (challenging the standard the administrative tribunal used for its decision)

If the court determines that the administrative tribunal did not decide appropriately, they will typically set aside the tribunal’s decision and make them decide the case again. However, the remedies available vary depending on the circumstances. 

For more information on the judicial review process in Ontario, consult the Ontario Courts’ Guide to Judicial Review in Divisional Court

What Are Administrative Tribunals? A Final Word

As the information above demonstrates, it can be difficult to succinctly explain what an administrative tribunal is or how its processes work. Each administrative tribunal has unique powers and procedures, making navigating the process difficult. If you require assistance with an administrative law issue, consulting with an experienced administrative law lawyer will help guide you to the best method of resolution for your matter. 

Contact the Administrative Law Lawyers at Tierney Stauffer LLP in Ottawa

If you are required to appear or are considering bringing an application before an administrative tribunal, the experienced lawyers at Tierney Stauffer LLP can assist you. We are a large team with a diverse array of experience in multiple areas of the law to assist our clients with a variety of public law needs. Call us at 1-888-799-8057 or contact us online to discuss your matter with an experienced lawyer. 


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