Hard Choices and Soft Law: Ethical Codes, Policy Guidelines and the Role of the Courts in Regulating Government


  • Lorne Sossin
  • Charles W. Smith




The authors examine a number of examples of "soft law": written and unwritten instruments and influences which shape administrative decision- making. Rather than rendering bureaucratic processes more transparent and cohesive, or fostering greater accountability and consistency among decision-makers, "soft law" in this context frequently reinforces artificial divisions. Moreover, it insulates decisions and decision-makers from the kinds of critical inquiry typically associated with "hard law." If it is to realize its potential as a bridge between law and policy, and lend meaning to core principles — like fairness and reliability — soft law ought to be subjected to similarly critical consideration. The authors maintain that doing so allows one to preserve soft law's promise of flexibility. Moreover, one avoids falling prey to the misleading dichotomies soft law tends to bolster in the absence of critical administrative, political, and judicial scrutiny.