Administrative Fairness

Every day, government organizations take actions and make decisions that affect people’s lives. Administrative fairness is the standard of conduct that government organizations in a democratic society owe to people.

Government organizations are expected to treat people fairly and reasonably. For example, they need to follow rules, provide clear information about processes and decisions, and deal with people with honesty and respect.

Although there is no single definition of fairness, there are some basic principles and practices that can help to describe it.

The Fairness Triangle: Three Aspects of Fairness

This section is based on materials developed by Ombudsman Saskatchewan. The Fairness Triangle was developed by Ombudsman Saskatchewan from the concept of the satisfaction triangle, in: Moore, Christopher (2003). The Mediation Process: Practical Strategies for Resolving Conflict (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.


What was decided?

  • Did government have the legal authority to make the decision?
  • Was the decision based on relevant information?
  • Was the decision oppressive or unjust?
  • Was the decision wrong in fact or law?


How was it decided?

  • Was the person given enough information to know what was required?
  • Was the person given an appropriate chance to present their views?
  • Did government take the time to listen?
  • Did government provide reasons for decisions?
  • Was the decision made within a reasonable time?
  • Was the decision-maker unbiased?


How was the person treated?

  • Was government approachable?
  • Was confidentiality respected?
  • Was government honest and forthright?
  • Did government offer an apology if a mistake was made?

Fairness is not always simple. Context is important in deciding whether something is fair. Fairness does not mean that government has to agree to every request, or treat everyone exactly the same.