There is a great divergence of opinion regarding the definition of the concept of the administrative law. This is because of the tremendous increase in the administrative process that it makes impossible to attempt any precise definition of administrative law which can cover the entire range of the administrative process. Hence, one has to expect differences in scope and emphasis in defining the administrative law. This is true not only due to the divergence of the administrative process within a given country but also because of the divergence of the scope of the subject in the continental and Anglo – American legal systems.
However, two important facts should be taken into account in an attempt at understanding and defining the administrative law.
- Firstly, administrative law is primarily concerned with the manner of exercising governmental power. The decision-making process is more important than the decision itself.
- Secondly, administrative law cannot fully be defined without due regard to the functional approach. This is to mean that the function (purpose) of administrative law should be the underlying element of any definition. The ultimate purpose of the administrative law is controlling the exercise of governmental power. The control aspect impliedly shades some light on the other components of its definition.
“Administrative law is the law relating to the administration. It determines the organization, powers, and duties of administrative authorities.” -Sir Ivor Jennings
Massey criticizes this definition because it fails to differentiate administrative and constitutional law. It lays entire emphasis on the organization, power, and duties to the exclusion of the manner of their exercise. In other words, this definition does not give due regard to the administrative process, i.e. the manner of agency decision making, including the rules, procedures, and principles it should comply with.
“Administrative law is that branch of public law which deals with the organization and powers of administrative and quasi-administrative agencies and prescribes the principles and rules by which an official action is reached and reviewed in relation to individual liberty and freedom.” – I.P Massey
Purpose of Administrative law
I.P. Massey (I.P. Massey, Administrative Law, 5th ed.) identifies the basic bricks of the foundation of administrative law as:
- To check abuse of administrative power
- To ensure to citizens an impartial determination of their disputes by officials so as to protect them from the unauthorized encroachment of their rights and interests.
- To make those who exercise public power accountable to the people.
To realize these basic purposes, it is necessary to have a system of administrative law rooted in basic principles of rule of law and good administration. A comprehensive, advanced and effective system of administrative law is underpinned by the following three broad principles:
- Administrative justice, which at its core, is a philosophy that in administrative decision making the rights and interests of individuals should be properly safeguarded.
- Executive accountability, which has the aim of ensuring that those who exercise the executive (and coercive) powers of the state can be called on to explain and justify the way in which they have gone about that task.
- Good administration- Administrative decision and action should conform to universally accepted standards, such as rationality, fairness, consistency, and transparency.
Sources of Administration Law
Administrative law principles and rules are to be found in many sources. The followings are the main sources of administrative law in India.
- The Constitution
- Legislation Acts and Statutes
- Delegated Legislation
- Judicial Decision
- Menaka Gandhi v. Union of India [Natural Justice] (1978) 1 SCC 248; AIR 1978 SC 598
- Ram Jawaya Kapur v. State of Punjab [Separation of Powers] AIR 1955 SC 549
- Vodafone International Holdings BV v. Union of India [taxation laws can’t have a retrospective effect] (2012) 6 SCC 613
- CNG in Delhi (Judicial Action)
Author – Mayank Shekhar
1) Administrative Law by I.P. Massey, Eastern Book Company, 8th Edition
2) SCC Online
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