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Print Price: $90.00

335 pp.
156 mm x 234 mm


Publication date:
January 2012

Imprint: OUP UK

Sovereignty's Promise

The State as Fiduciary

Evan Fox-Decent

Series : Oxford Constitutional Theory

Political theory is traditionally concerned with the justification and limits of state power. It asks: Can states legitimately direct and coerce non-consenting subjects? If they can, what limits, if any, constrain sovereign power?

Public law is concerned with the justification and limits of judicial power. It asks: On what grounds can judges 'read down' or 'read in' statutory language against the apparent intention of the legislature? What limits, if any, are appropriate to these exercises of judicial power?

This book develops an original constitutional theory of political authority that yields novel answers to both sets of questions. Fox-Decent argues that the state is a fiduciary of its people, and that this fiduciary relationship grounds the state's authority to announce and enforce law. The fiduciary state is conceived of as a public agent of necessity charged with guaranteeing a regime of secure and equal freedom. Whereas the social contract tradition struggles to ground authority on consent, the fiduciary theory explains authority with reference to the state's fiduciary obligation to respect legal principles constitutive of the rule of law. This obligation arises from the state's possession of irresistible public powers.

The author begins with a discussion of Hobbes's conception of legality and the problem of discretionary power in administrative law. Drawing on Kant, he sketches a theory of fiduciary relations, and develops the argument through three parts. Part I shows that it is possible for the state to stand in a public fiduciary relationship to its people through a discussion of Crown-Native fiduciary relations recognized by Canadian courts. Part II sets out the theoretical underpinnings of the fiduciary theory of the state. Part III explores the implications of the fiduciary theory for administrative law and common law constitutionalism. The final chapter situates the theory within a broader philosophical discussion of the rule of law.

Readership : Academics and students in law, philosophy and political science, particularly in constitutional law and theory.

Prologue: Hobbes and Legal Order
1. Introduction: The State as Fiduciary and the Rule of Law
2. Seeking Sovereignty
3. Some Objections
4. Fiduciary Relationships and the Presumption of Trust
5. The Duty to Obey the Law
6. Judicial Ambivalence to Public Fiduciary Duties
7. Procedural Fairness - A Pandora's Box of Legality
8. Administrative Law as Solicitude - Reasonable Decision-Making
9. The Rule of Law and Human Rights

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Evan Fox-Decent is Associate Professor of the Faculty of Law, McGill University. He teaches and publishes in legal theory, administrative law, First Nations and the law, immigration law, the law of fiduciaries, and human rights. He has worked on human rights and democratic governance reform in Latin America since 1987.
He has served with the UN Verification Mission in Guatemala (1996-99), and has consulted on behalf of numerous development and research agencies, as well as on behalf of legal institutions in Latin America, including the Supreme Court of Venezuela, the European Union, the World Bank, the International Development Bank, USAID, and Canada's International Development Research Centre.

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Special Features

  • Develops a bold and provocative theory of political authority and its constitutional limits, grounded in the idea of a fiduciary relationship between the state and its people.
  • Presents the philosophical argument in close dialogue with constitutional practice in a range of jurisdictions, showing its relevance to solving real-world problems of constitutional law and politics.
  • Provides an in-depth analysis of topical issues in constitutional law, including the recognition of First Nations rights and the scope and content of judicial review in the Supreme Court of Canada's recent decision in Dunsmuir.