Peter Quayle: An Act of Authority for an Object of Public Utility—What is International Administrative Law?

Since international administrative law is the near-namesake of administrative law, the expectation that these two legal regimes are interrelated is not unreasonable. This would then suppose that international administrative law stands in relationship to treaty-based international organizations as administrative law relates to national administration; that the restraint of intergovernmental institutions is patterned after the regulation of some of the governments that instigate and constitute them. But, instead international administrative law is the shorthand for the employment law of the international civil service. To understand why, the first recorded employment dispute at the first modern-era international organization—the League of Nations—is instructive.

The Secretariat of the League of Nations

The Treaty of Versailles, signed in 1919, bringing the First World War to a conclusion, incorporated the Covenant of the League of Nations. The League’s purpose, “to promote international co-operation and to achieve international peace and security”, was furthered by a permanent multilateral Secretariat, seated at Geneva, and led by a Secretary-General. In the first year of the League’s existence, a bureaucrat named François Monod was appointed to the Secretariat on a five-year contract as Director of the Precis-Writing Section. (See, Official Journal of the League of Nations, 1925, Annex 790, pp. 1441-1447.) However, in February 1921, it was mutually agreed between Monod and Sir Eric Drummond, the League’s formidable founding Secretary-General, that upon the “reorganization” of this Section, Monod would cease to act as its Director.

Instead, he would take a leave of absence, finish-up a report he was preparing for the League’s Assembly, and then be on standby (“en disponibilité”) to return to a post in the Secretariat. Once he quit as Director, his first two months would be on full pay, the second two months on half pay, but thereafter his leave would be unpaid. The Secretary-General reassured Monod in a written exchange, that he “would be reabsorbed as soon as a permanent post occurred with the Secretariat” for which Monod, naturally enough, was “fitted”; albeit Drummond emphasized, that he “could not foretell when such an appointment would arise.” Eleven months later, Monod had yet to be returned to active duty, his name was removed from the Secretariat’s staff list and Drummond offered him an ex gratia sum of £500. (Monod’s annual pay had been £1,000.) It was later the Secretary-General’s evidence that his original impulse to remove Monod from the Precis-Writing Section was based upon (unspecified) health grounds. But also—less objectively, and perhaps more euphemistically—“because [Monod] did not possess the necessary mental calm and the spirit of cooperation which is indispensable to a great international institution.” The available evidence does not allow us tell whether this reflected conscientious concern, or was a ruse to remove an unwanted official.

François Monod v. Sir Eric Drummond

Monod responded by claiming breach of his five-year contract and “full compensation for the prejudice suffered by him by being dismissed without just cause”. In addition to the balance of his unpaid salary, he sought “moral damages” and the satisfaction of his name being retrospectively reinstated to the staff list of the Secretariat. The Secretary-General resisted this claim. The matter was placed before the Council of the League of Nations—the League’s executive governance organ. The Council then appointed three eminent international jurists (Italian, Dutch and Swedish) to form a Commission to settle the dispute, resolving “in advance that it will adopt the conclusions of this body as its own decision in the case.”

As stated in its report, the Commission decided on a two-day oral hearing at Geneva, “without legal formalities and to give the parties full latitude to put forward arguments on questions of fact and questions of law.” The claimant and Secretary-General were legally represented by members of the Geneva Bar. Both Monod and Drummond gave evidence, as did Monod’s assistant. But, whilst these findings of fact convey an employment dispute that seems only too ordinary, the questions of law involved were unprecedented. What indeed is the law of employment relations, between an employing international organization on the one hand, and an employee international official on the other hand—then and now?

Principles of Public Administration

It is apparent from the Commission’s report that an exclusively contractual interpretation was advanced, not implausibly, by the claimant’s counsel. Monod held a contract of service or labour with the Secretariat and its breach was understandable and compensable accordingly. Yet, the Commission dismissed this argument as an oversimplification—because the relationship between Monod and the Secretary-General “was of a much more complicated nature”, defined by the public administration exercised by the Secretariat and consequently the public employment of its officials:

[T]he public administration accomplishes an act of authority for an object of public utility and by such act it confers on private persons public duties thus endowing them with the status of officials, inasmuch as it is this delegation of public duties that characterises appointment to public offices.

The Commission regarded this transposition from private person to public office-holder as inherent to membership of the Secretariat, since the League was an intergovernmental entity activated by the public interest. And in turn, “[r]elations connected with public employment are always governed by the exigencies of the public interest, to which the private and personal interests of the officials must necessarily give way.” However, the Commission cautioned that the exigencies of the public interest were not unbounded:

This does not mean that a public administration can exercise its powers in an arbitrary manner. The public administration must always, in all its acts, have regard to the public interest and respect the principles of justice. If it exceeds its powers for private ends or ends not authorised by law or if it commits an injustice, it is guilty of unlawful acts.

The Discretion of the Secretary-General

Consequently, the Commission found that the only legal question at issue was whether the claimant had been relieved of his duties “dictated solely by a regard for the interests of the Administration.” If there was no reason to think otherwise, then the discretion of the Secretary-General was unquestionable. On this basis, the Commission found the dismissal of Monod “entirely justified”. It was “rendered necessary by a due appreciation of the service and requirements of the League of Nations” and the “object of that removal was to increase the efficiency of a very important administration.” And yet—the Commission found that because it was the offer of the ex gratia payment that acted to (lawfully) dismiss Monod, he should therefore have been paid up to that point; he was awarded nine month’s pay. Furthermore, he was awarded an additional £750 because the appearance of the prospect of reinstatement which induced Monod to amicably step down from the Precis-Writing Section was found out by the Commission to be hollow (although unbeknownst at the time to the Secretary-General).

A century later, whilst the League of Nations was long ago eclipsed by history, this case remains a durable precedent for international administrative law—the law governing the act of authority for an object of public utility by international public administration, accompanying appointment to the international civil service. It also continues to encapsulate the mistakes, misadventures and many misunderstandings found in the complex, multinational workplaces of today’s international organizations.

The Role of International Administrative Law at International Organizations

Centred upon the employment law at international organizations, The Role of International Administrative Law at International Organizations is a multi-author book, published by Brill Nijhoff (2020). Edited by the author of this blog post, Peter Quayle, it is divided into four parts. Firstly, it examines the interplay between international administrative law and the jurisdictional immunities of international organizations. Second, it explores the principles and practice of resolving employment related disputes at intergovernmental institutions. Third, it considers the dynamic development of international administrative tribunals. And fourth, it examines international administrative law as the basis for the effectiveness and integrity of international organizations. Together academics, jurists and practitioners portray the employment law that governs the international civil service and the resulting accountability of the United Nations, UN Specialized Agencies, and international financial institutions, like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Peter Quayle is Visiting Fellow at the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law, University of Cambridge and editor of The Role of International Administrative Law at International Organizations (Brill Nijhoff, 2020).

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