Judicial Control over Administrative actions

Judicial Control over Administrative actions


In today’s era, the administration plays a vital role in every individual’s life. To meet the changing demands of new political, economic and social conditions there has been remarkable expansion of administrative law. To achieve the basic aim of any civilized society i.e. ‘growth with liberty’ there is need of administrative powers.

Judicial control

According to The doctrine of separation of powers each pillar of democracy i.e. executive, legislature and the judiciary perform their separate functions and act as separate entities. Different agencies inflict checks and balances upon one other but never contravene with each other’s functions. Similarly judiciary also exercise judicial review over legislative and executive action. It has been recognized as a mandatory and basic requirement for safeguarding the liberty and rights of the citizens. There are various case laws through which courts have issued laws and policy related orders through their judgments.

For example: guidelines on sexual harassment were issued by the Supreme Court under Vishakha’s case[1],  where as in Gaurav Jain v Union of India[2] the Supreme Court held that the children of the prostitutes have the right to equality of opportunity, dignity, care, protection and rehabilitation so as to be part of the mainstream of social life without any pre-stigma attached on them further court directed for the constitution of a committee to formulate a scheme for the rehabilitation of such children. These examples highlight some instances where the judiciary acted as watch dogs for usage of power by legislature and executive. In a land mark judgement of Keshvanand Bharti v. State of Kerala[3] The Supreme Court of India bestowed on judicial review the widest ambit and amplitude.

Broadly speaking, judicial review in India deals with:

  1. Judicial Review of Legislative Actions;
  2. Judicial Review of Administrative Actions;
  3. Judicial review of Judicial Actions.

We will be dealing with 2nd aspect that is Judicial Review of Administrative Actions.

Judicial control over administration

The administration through their actions is contributing a lot in designing and influencing the socio-economic order. But these administrative functionaries and the agencies are resulting in maladministration and the corruption. By the exploitation or misuse of their powers, the administration is overpowering the individual’s rights. This is the reason that the courts in India are given powers to control and review the administrative actions. Judicial control is the control exercised by the Courts over the administration. It is the power of the court to keep the administrative acts within the limits of law. If the administration is indulged in any wrongful act which overpowers the right of the citizen then it can be challenged in court of law. Therefore judiciary plays an important role in protecting the citizen against the arbitrary exercise of power by administration.

Grounds of Judicial Intervention

Rule of law has played a great role in development of Indian democracy. It was adopted by England and was incorporated in the Indian Constitution. This is the reason that Indian Constitution is considered to be supreme and no action is above the constitution. This gave origin to the Doctrine-ultra-vires. This doctrine is considered as the foundation of judicial control over the actions of the administration. Ultra-vires refers to those actions which are performed in an excessive manner or outside the ambit of the power.

The grounds for judicial review are as follows-

  1. Jurisdictional Error;
  2. Irrationality;
  3. Procedural Impropriety;
  4. Proportionality;

These grounds were given by Lord Diplock of England in the case of Council of Civil Service Union v. Minister of Civil Service[4] (1984). Though these grounds of judicial review are not all-inclusive but still they provide an apt base for the courts to exercise their jurisdiction.

  1. Jurisdictional Error:

The term ‘jurisdiction’ means the power to decide. There can be a ‘lack of jurisdiction’, ‘excess of jurisdiction’ or ‘abuse of jurisdiction’. The court may reject an administrative action on these grounds.

  • Lack of jurisdiction: it is the case where the tribunal or authority bears no power or jurisdiction at all to pass an order. The court has the power to review this administrative action on the ground that the authority has exercised jurisdiction beyond its power. In Anisminic Ltd.Foreign Compensation Commission[5] the Compensation Commission had the power to distribute the compensation fund to British companies if they suffered any loss if their property being forfeited by the Egyptian Government. The claim of Anisminic Ltd. was rejected by the Commission on the basis that their property was sold to a third party by the Egyptian Government. It was held by the board that it had no power to grant compensation to it. The clause of the act said that the decision of the Board cannot be questioned in any court of law. The decision of the Board was held to be ultra vires by the House of Lord as it was so wrong in law that it amounted not to be a decision at all.
  • Excess of Jurisdiction: It is a situation wherein the authorities initially had the jurisdiction over a matter but afterwards it had exceeded and then their actions become illegal. In Real Food Products case[6] the directions were issued by the Government under Section 78-A of the Electricity Supply Act to fix concessional tariff of some fixed amount. It was held by the Supreme Court that fixation of a particular rate was beyond power to give direction under Section 78-A of the Act.
  • Abuse of Power: This situation arises when power is used for
  • Improper purpose– authority uses its power for a different purpose
  • Error apparent on the face of record– When it can be ascertained by examining the record without having to recourse to other evidence.
  • In bad faith– Where authority has acted dishonestly by stating to have acted for a particular motive but in reality the decision was taken with some other motive in mind.
  1. Irrationality (Wednesbury test):

It is general principle that discretionary power conferred on an administrative authority should be exercised reasonably. A decision of an authority can be held to be unreasonable if it is unbearable in its contempt of logic or prevalent moral standards that no reasonable person if applied his mind to the subject could have reached at it. This ground was developed in Associated Provincial Picture House v. Wednesbury [7](1947) case which is famously known as ‘Wednesbury test’. The court held that it could not intervene with the decision simply because defendant disagreed with it. An example of action based on irrational, is termination of the services of an air hostess on her becoming pregnant (Air India v. Nargesh Mirza[8]). Therefore it was held that the termination of services to be irrational and unreasonable.

  1. Procedural Impropriety :

When the authorities fail to comply with the laid down procedures it is called procedural impropriety. It covers two areas i.e. not complying with the rules given in statute and to observe the basic common-law rule of justice. This ground can also be used when there is a complaint that a public authority had promised to perform a certain act but then failed to do so. In this case a legitimate expectation arises in the mind of the complainant but due to non compliance of the promises made by government the procedural impropriety arises. SC and WS Welfare Association v. State of Karnataka[9]during this case the govt had had issued a notification notifying areas where slum clearance scheme are going to be introduced. However, the notification was subsequently amended and certain areas notified earlier were overlooked. The court held that the earlier notification had raised legitimate expectation within the people living in that area, which had been overlooked by the subsequent notification, and hence legitimate expectations can’t be denied without a fair hearing.

  1. Proportionality:

When the action is more drastic than it ought to be for obtaining the desired result then it is said that test of proportionality has not been followed. In this the court is ‘concerned with the way in which the administrator has listed their priorities, the very essence of decision-making consists, surely, in the attribution of relative importance to the factors in the case. The test of proportionality implies that the court has to go into the advantages and disadvantages of the action called into question. Until the action of administration is advantageous and in the public interest, such an action cannot be upheld. This doctrine tries to balance means with ends. In Hind Construction Co. v. Workmen [10](1965), worker men called for a holiday and remained absent. They were later dismissed from service. The court held that the workers should have been warned and fined instead of being dismissed from the service. It was held that the punishment imposed on the workers were not only severe but also disproportionate.

Remedies of Judicial Review

There are five types of writs that are available for judicial review of administrative actions under Article of 32, and Article of 226that empowers Supreme Court and High Court respectively under the Constitution of India.

  1. Habeas Corpus: It means to have the body of. If it is found that the person in unlawfully or illegally detained, he will be set free on the basis of this writ.
  2. Mandamus: It literally means to command. If a public official fails to perform an act which is a part of his duty and in return violates the right of an individual then he /she will be commanded to perform the act through this writ.
  3. Prohibition: It is a judicial writ issued by a superior court to an inferior court, preventing it from usurping jurisdiction, which is not vested with it.
  4. Certiorari: It is a writ issued by a superior court for transferring the records of proceedings of a case from an inferior court or quasi-judicial authority to the superior court for determining the legality of the proceedings. It is both preventive and curative.
  5. Quo-Warranto: Literally means ‘on what authority’. When any person acts in a ‘public office’ in which he/she is not entitled to act, the court by the issue of this writ, will enquire into the legality of the claim of the person to that office.


[1] (1997) 6 SCC 241

[2] (1997) 8 SCC 114

[3] (1973) 4 SCC 225

[4] [1984] 3 All ER 935

[5] (1969) 2 AC 147

[6] (1995) 3 SCC 295

[7] (1947) 2 All ER 680

[8] (1981) 4 SCC 335

[9] (1991) 2 SCC 604.

[10] 1965 SCR (2) 85

Author: Ridhi Gupta,
Panjab university and 3rd year

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