The Promotion of Administrative Justice Act (PAJA) gives muscle to our Constitutional right to fair, lawful and reasonable administrative action.
Considering how seriously bureaucratic decisions can impact us, not only financially but also in our personal lives, it’s important to know that PAJA is available to protect us whenever our rights are negatively impacted by such a decision.
Let’s have a look at how our courts can use PAJA to come to our assistance in a practical sense. We’ll refer to a recent High Court order against a municipality which had, through an “error in law”, rejected a service station’s building plans. We conclude with a warning to act quickly so as not to miss the time limits for taking action.
“The Constitution guarantees that administrative action will be reasonable, lawful and procedurally fair. It also makes sure that you have the right to request reasons for administrative action that negatively affects you.” (Department of Justice and Constitutional Development)
Bureaucratic decisions can and do have far-reaching consequences for us, both financially and in our personal lives. It’s good to know therefore that whenever your rights are affected by any such decision, you have access to the protections set out in PAJA (the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act).
In a nutshell, PAJA provides that “administrative decisions” by government departments, parastatals and the like must be fair, lawful and reasonable. Decision makers must follow fair procedures, allow you to have your say before deciding, and give you written reasons for their decisions when asked.
If a decision goes against you, your first step should be to use any internal appeal procedures. Ultimately you can go to court, although often a lawyer’s letter or two will solve the problem without the need for litigation.
A recent High Court decision illustrates one way in which PAJA can help you if all else fails –
A service station’s building plans rejected
- A service station submitted to its local authority building plans for a proposed refurbishment.
- After a series of meetings with the municipality and alterations to the plans as various issues were raised and resolved, the service station owners thought they were home and dry. But in the end the plans were not accepted on the basis that the application was for an extension of the service station which could not be approved in terms of the local Town Planning Scheme.
- The High Court however found that factually there was no “extension” involved and that the municipality had therefore made an “error in law”.
- That opened the door for the Court to review the municipality’s decision, which it duly set aside. In referring the decision back to the municipality for reconsideration, the Court directed it to make a decision within 21 days, and without regarding the proposed refurbishment as being an extension of the building.
A final thought – strict time limits apply with PAJA, so if a decision goes against you seek professional help without delay!