In his lecture to the Administrative Law Bar Association earlier this month, Lord Sumption surveys the concept of “anxious scrutiny” – a judicial method which he characterises as a forerunner to the principle of proportionality. The term was actually coined by Lord Bridge in Bugdaycay (1986), and was meant to apply where the rights engaged in a case were sufficiently fundamental, and stretched the traditional “Wednesbury” test to public authority decisions or actions which were not, on the face of it, irrational. (The citation given in the PDF of the speech incidentally is incorrect). The same way of thinking had been arrived at in the US courts a few years earlier, with their “hard look” doctrine, but to Lord Sumption there was something peculiarly English about the “crab-like” way in which our courts approached and eventually acknowledged this doctrine, hitherto alien to the judicial toolbox.
But if we apply anxious scrutiny to the doctrine itself, Sumption suggests, it raises more questions than it answers. Continue reading