Research team

Government and Law

Towards a theory on general principles of proof in administrative law. 01/10/2019 - 30/09/2023

Abstract

Numerous administrative decisions are taken every day in Belgium by a variety of administrative bodies. Some of these decisions rely on facts that are fairly easy to determine (date of birth, residence etc.). Others, however, require a more thorough and intensive investigation and proof of all the relevant facts in order to ensure that the administration can take a well-informed decision. Decisions on planning and environmental permits, for instance, require a precise, technical knowledge of the location of the planned construction, the dangers posed by certain activities, the expected nuisance with respect to mobility, the environment etc. Imposing a disciplinary sanction on a civil servant who denies the facts, may require the administration to have recourse to certain investigatory acts. Which methods of investigation and proof can the administration use in those cases? And who carries the delicate and complex burden of proof in asylum cases? Many administrative decisions are annulled by the administrative courts because the facts were not established or assessed in a proper and correct way. Sometimes, however, the question also arises whether the intensity of review that the administrative courts adopt in this matter is sufficient. Fundamental rights are at stake here, too. The question arises whether the right to a court that exercises 'full jurisdiction' (guaranteed by article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights) does not require a more active role of the courts in these matters, which goes beyond a mere control of the investigation carried out by the administration. For citizens, administrative bodies and administrative courts, the lack of a comprehensive theory on proof in administrative law is problematic. Who carries the burden of proof in which circumstances? What has to be proved? Which types of evidence are permissible? And what is the role of the courts in the litigation phase? An answer to these questions would fill an important lacuna in legal academic knowledge. The aim of this research is to develop a general theory on proof in administrative law, both in the administrative phase and in the phase before the administrative courts. To that end, we study the case law of the Council of State and a selection of specialized administrative courts and we engage in comparative research to look for inspiration in other jurisdictions. Knowing who has to prove what, which types of evidence can be used for that purpose and how a judge has to evaluate and control this process is essential for legal certainty and, hence, for the rule of law. Both the scientific and social relevance of this research are therefore certain. The results of this research will not only offer handholds to citizens, administrative bodies and courts; they could also be an inspiration for the legislature to develop a statutory framework on proof in administrative law.

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