Where legislation gives public authorities a power to make decisions such as determining requests for licences, it is likely to receive very many applications. In order to ensure consistency, certainty and efficiency of administration, public authorities are permitted (or required, in some circumstances) to develop policies which set out how applications are dealt with. The policies may, for example, set out what factors ought to be considered in determining applications or the procedural requirements that must be satisfied prior to the applications being considered. This allows applications to be dealt with in a standard way, applying the same criteria and attaching the same weight to the same factors in each case. The policies themselves must be lawful (e.g. must be reasonable, and must comply with the European Convention on Human Rights).
The rule against fettering discretion does not prevent the adoption of such policies. Instead, it is concerned with ensuring that public authorities allow, in appropriate cases, exceptions to the general rules set out in the policies. This is especially relevant in cases involving human rights and equality. In other words, a public authority should not apply its policy rigidly and must allow the applicant the opportunity to make representations as to why the policy should be departed from in that specific case. The public authority must keep an open mind and should consider each case on its own merits.