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What is Administrative Law?

Let's understand the term Administrative Law.

Administrative law is a separate branch of legal discipline in India. Administrative law, is that body of reasonable limitations and affirmative action parameters which are developed and operationalized by the legislature and the courts to maintain and sustain a rule-of-law society. The four bricks of the foundation of an administrative law are:

1. To check abuse of administrative power;

2. To ensure to citizens an impartial determination of the disputes by officials;

3. To protect them from unauthorized encroachment on their rights and interests.

4. To make those who exercise public power accountable to the people.

Definition of Administrative Law:

Different persons have defined Administrative law differently. Let us take a look at some of them under the term Administrative law:

a. Sir Ivor Jennings defines administrative law as the law relating to administration. It determines the organization, powers and the duties of administrative authorities.

b. Dicey defines Administrative law as relating to that portion of a nations legal system which determines the legal status and liabilities of all State Officials. It defines the rights and liabilities of private individuals in their dealings with public officials. Specifies the procedure by which those rights and liabilities are enforced.

c. Kenneth Culp defines administrative law as a law that concerns the powers and procedure of administrative agencies including the law governing judicial review of administrative action.

d. Prof. Upendra Baxi defines Administrative law as pathology of powers. He lays special stress

on protection of the ‘little man’ from the arbitrary exercise of public power. Accountability

of the holders of public power for the ruled is thus the focal point of his formulation.

We may therefore define Administrative Law as that branch of public law which deals with organization and power of administrative and quasi-administrative agencies and prescribed principles and rule by which an official action is reached and reviewed in relation to individual liberty and freedom.


a. Administrative law is not a law like property law or contract law. It is a law in the sense of the

term which includes statute law, administrative directions, rule-making, precedents, customs,

administrative directions, etc. It also includes the study of something which may not be termed

‘law’ in the true sense of the term such as administrative circulars, policy statements,

memoranda and resolutions, etc.

b. Administrative law is a branch of public law in contradistinction to private law which deals

with the relationship of individual inter se. It primarily deals with the relationship of individuals

with organized power.

c. It deals with organization and power of administrative and quasi-administrative agencies such as corporations, firms, autonomous agencies, individuals, and civil society institutions, both national and global, and the like.

d. It is the body of law which governs the activities of administrative agencies of Government.

Government agency action can include rule-making, adjudication, or the enforcement of

specific regulatory agenda.

e. Administrative law includes the study of the existing principles and also of the development of

certain new principles which Administrative and quasi-administrative agencies must follow

while exercising their powers in relation to individuals i.e. principles of natural justice,

reasonableness and fairness.

f. Administrative law primarily concerns with the official action, Which may be:

1. Rule-making or quasi-legislative action.

2. Rule-decision or quasi-judicial action.

3. Rule-application or administrative action, or

4. Ministerial action or pure administrative action.

g. Administrative law puts emphasis on procedure by which the official action is reached. The

procedure/means by which the official action is reached should be trustworthy.

h. Administrative law also includes within its study the control mechanism by which the

administrative agencies are kept within bounds and made effective in the service of

individuals. This control mechanism is technically called the review process.

An administration action may be controlled by:

1. Courts exercising writ jurisdiction = habeas corpus, mandamus, certiorari, prohibition, quo

warranto etc.

2. Courts exercising ordinary judicial power = suits, injunctions, and declaratory actions.

3. Statutory authorities = ombudsman, human rights commission, other investigating


4. Higher Administrative authorities

5. Public opinion and Mass media

6. Civil society and interest representatives help in controlling the arbitrary exercise of public

power, both at the pre-natal and post-natal stages.

7. Easy access to Justice includes procedural facility which is cheap, speedy and less

formalistic, legal aid, availability of advocates for public interest litigation, intellectual

capacity of the part and active participation of the judges.

8. Right to know, right to reply and discretion to disobey also have inherent potentialities of

proving effective, though indirect, in providing a check on administrative behavior.

i. The study of administrative law is not an end in itself, but a means to an end.

j. Administrative law emerges and develops whenever and wherever any person becomes the

victim of the arbitrary exercise of public power. Administrative law is not a branch of philosophy

of law, but of sociology of law.

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