Administrative law – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Veterinary Associations – Veterinarians – Disciplinary proceedings – Judicial review – Procedural requirements and fairness – Bias – Jurisdiction – Standard of review – Correctness
Bajwa v. British Columbia Veterinary Medical Assn.,  B.C.J. No. 1169, 2010 BCSC 848, British Columbia Supreme Court, June 16, 2010, M.J. Allan J.
Dr. Bajwa, the petitioner, is a member of the respondent British Columbia Veterinary Medical Association. The Association is a self-governing professional body with the statutory obligation to regulate the practice of veterinarians in B.C. In 2008, the Association considered charges of unprofessional conduct against the petitioner, including that he failed to respond promptly and appropriately to letters from the Association’s investigator and that a certain medical record was incomplete. In proceedings before the Association’s Inquiry Committee, the petitioner argued that Association was biased. The Inquiry Committee found that it lacked jurisdiction and refused to consider this issue. The petitioner seeks to have the decision of the Inquiry Committee quashed or declared void on the basis that there had been a breach of procedural fairness.
The court emphasized that there is ample authority for the proposition that issues of procedural fairness are reviewable without deference and on a standard of correctness. This is because procedural fairness concerns the manner in which the decision is made rather than the substance of the decision. On judicial review, the court will decide whether the administrative decision maker has complied with or breached the duty of fairness required in the circumstances. In doing so, the court does not defer to the decision maker’s view of the fairness of its own procedure or its lack of bias or independence.
The court further noted that there is authority for the proposition that a tribunal has the jurisdiction to consider allegations of bias even if its governing contract or statute does not explicitly permit adjudication of those allegations, and concluded that in this case the Inquiry Committee had a duty to consider the petitioner’s submission on institutional bias and consider the evidence relevant to that issue. Accordingly, the court held that the Inquiry Committee erred when it declined to consider evidence and argument about institutional bias, and quashed the decision.
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