Doctrines of Administrative Law

By | October 5, 2016
Control Mechanism Of Administrative Rule-Making Power

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Doctrine of Proportionality

The doctrines of proportionality was developed in the 19th century in Europe and originated in Prussia. It is a principle where courts would examine priorities and processes of the administration for reaching or recalling a decision. Proportionality means that the administrative action should not be more drastic than it ought to be for obtaining the desired result.

This implies that canon should not be used to shoot a sparrow. Thus this doctrine tries to balance means with ends. Proportionality shares space with reasonableness and courts while exercising the power of review test this reasonability. The courts in India have been following this doctrine for a long time.

This doctrine is applied in following situations:

1. Where an administrative action invades fundamental rights, courts make strict scrutiny of the administrative action and go into the question of the correctness of the choices made by the authority. The court would also balance adverse effects on the rights and objects sought to be achieved.

2. Where a question of quantum of punishment imposed by the administrative authority is involved, the court would not make strict scrutiny. Courts follow the principle that though the quantum of punishment is within the jurisdiction of the administrative authority, arbitrariness must be avoided.

While reviewing the administrative action on the ground of proportionality, courts generally examine two things:

1. Whether the relative merits of different objectives or interests have been appropriately weighed and fairly balanced?

2. Whether the action under review was, in the circumstances, excessively restrictive or inflicted an unnecessary burden?

There have been many judgments which elucidate the doctrine of proportionality in Article 14 and Article 19 of the Constitution of India. One of the earliest decisions on judicial review in administrative law was Ranjit Thakur v. Union of India (1987 AIR 2386) and it was observed that:

“The doctrine of proportionality, as part of the concept of judicial review, would ensure that even on an aspect which is, otherwise, within the exclusive province of the court-martial, if the decision of the court even as to sentence is an outrageous defiance of logic, then the sentence would not be immune from correction. Irrationality and perversity are recognized grounds for judicial review.”

In the case of Om Kumar v. Union of India (SLP civil 1993), inter alia, the Supreme Court noted that while dealing with the validity of legislation infringing fundamental freedoms enumerated in Article 19 (1) of the Constitution of India, the issue of whether restrictions imposed by the legislation were disproportionate to the situation and not the least restrictive of choices has been repeatedly examined by the superior courts in numerous judgments.

Thus in the Om Kumar case proportionality was held to mean whether while regulating the exercise of fundamental rights, the appropriate or least restrictive choice of measures have been adopted by the legislature or the administrator so as to achieve the object of the legislation or administrative order. And that it was for the superior Courts to decide whether the choice made by the legislature or the administrative authorities infringed the rights excessively.

The Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation

The term legitimate expectation was first used by Lord Denning in 1969 and from that time it has assumed the position of significant doctrines of public law in almost all jurisdictions. The doctrine of legitimate expectation belongs to the domain of public law and is intended to give relief to the people when they are not able to justify their claims on the basis of law, in the strict sense of the term, though they had suffered a civil consequence because their legitimate expectation had been violated.

It is something between a “right” and “no right” and is different from anticipation desire and hope. For example, if the government has made a scheme for providing drinking water in villages in a certain area but later on changed it, so as to exclude certain villages from the purview of the scheme, then in such a case, what is violated is the legitimate expectation of the people in the excluded village. The government can be held responsible if the exclusion is not reasonable.

In India, the Supreme Court has developed this doctrine in order to check the arbitrary exercise of power by the administrative authorities. This doctrine provides a central space between no claim and legal claim, wherein a public authority can be made accountable on the ground of an expectation which is legitimate. The first reference to this doctrine is found in the State of Kerala v. K.G. Madhavan Pillai (AIR 1989 SC 49).

In this case, the government had issued a sanction to the respondents to open a new unaided school and to upgrade the existing ones. However, after 15 days a direction was issued to keep the sanction in abeyance. This order was challenged on the ground of violation of principles of natural justice. The court held that the sanction order created a legitimate expectation in the respondent which was violated by the second order without following the principles of natural justice, which is s8ufficient to vitiate an administrative order.

This doctrine is a fine example of judicial creativity. The origin of this doctrine can be related to Article 14 of the Constitution, which abhors arbitrariness and insists on fairness in all administrative dealings. The doctrine has both positive and negative application. If applied negatively, an administrative authority can be prohibited from violating the legitimate expectations of people, and if applied in a positive manner, an administrative authority can be compelled to fulfill the legitimate expectations of people. This is based on the principle that public power is a trust which must be exercised in the best interest of its beneficiaries.

Author – Mayank Shekhar


1. Administrative Law by I.P. Massey, Eastern Book Company, 8th Edition

2. SCC Online

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Author: Mayank Shekhar

Mayank is a student at Faculty of Law, Delhi University. Under his leadership, Legal Bites has been researching and developing resources through blogging, educational resources, competitions, and seminars.