JUDICIAL REVIEW – Supreme court

Author: R.Rebecca Vasanthini Percy,
School of Excellence in Law, Chennai


The system of judicial review of administrative actions has been inherited from Britain. It is on this kernel that the Indian courts have invigorated the superstructure of control mechanism. The whole law of judicial review of administrative actions has been developed by judges on case-to-case basis.

The present inclination of judicial decisions is to widen the scope of judicial review of administrative actions and to restrict the carte blanche from judicial review to a class of cases, which relate to stationing of troops and entering into international treaties, etc.
According to dictionary denotation, “Judicial Review” is “A procedure by which a court can pronounce on an administrative action by a public body”.
Judicial review may be expounded as a “court’s faculty to review the actions of other branches of government, especially the courts power to invalidate legislative and executive actions as being unconstitutional”.


Judicial review of administrative action is perhaps the most germane development in the field of public law in the second half of this 20th century. In India, the doctrine of judicial review is the basic feature of our constitution. Judicial review is the most formidable weapon in the hands of the judiciary for the maintenance of the rule of law. Judicial review is the touchstone of the constitution.

The competency of judicial review is an integral part of our constitutional system and without it, there will be no government of laws and the rule of law would become a chiack illusion and a promise of unreality. The court is not concerned with the calibre or correctness of the decision, but with the modus operandi in which the decision is taken or order is made.

In neoteric times, judicial review of administrative action has become extensive and cross-disciplinary. The traditional damper has vanished and the sphere of judicial scrutiny is being expanded. Under the old theory, the courts used to exercise faculty only in cases of dearth or excess or perversion of power. As the state activities have become penetrating and behemonth public corporations have come into existence, the strut of public exchequer justifies larger public audit and judicial control.


The underlying recipient of judicial review is to ensure that the authority does not abuse its power and the individual receives just and pukka treatment and not to ensure that the authority reaches a supposition which is meticulous in the eye of law.[1]
In Minerva Mills Ltd. V. Union of India[2]
The Supreme Court has observed that the constitution has inaugurated an independent judiciary which is lodged with the power of judicial review to determine the legality of administrative action and the validity of legislation. It is the solemn fealty of the judiciary under the constitution to keep discrete organs of the state within the limits of the power conferred upon them by the constitution by exercising capability of judicial review as sentinel on the qui vive.
Judicial hunt in administrative matters is to smite the just symmetry between the administrative discretion to elect matters as per government policy, and the entail of fairness. Any slanted action must be set right by administrative review.[3] Judicial review provides a line up for the “sober second thought”.
Thus judicial review aims to inoculate citizens from abuse or misuse of power by any branch of the state.


In India, the doctrine of judicial review is the basic feature of our constitution. It is the most potent machete in the hands of the judiciary for the maintenance of the rule of law. It is also the touchstone of the constitution. The Supreme Court and High Courts are the ultimate interpreters of the constitution. It is, therefore, their duty to find out the compass and limits of the power of coordinate branches, viz. executive and legislature and to ensure that they do not transgress their limits. This is indeed a gauzy task assigned to the judiciary by the constitution. Judicial review is thus the touchstone and lifeblood of the rule of law.


Judicial review has conclusive inherent limitations. It is equiped more for adjudication of disputes than for implementing administrative functions. It is for the executive to administer the law and the function of the judiciary is to clinch that the government carries out its duty in accordance with the provisions of the constitution.[4] 
The duty of the court is to incarcerate itself to the question of legality. It has to ponder whether a decision- making authority exceeded its powers, committed an erratum of law, violated rules of natural justice, reached a decision which no reasonable man would have reached or otherwise abused its powers. The parameters of judicial review should be clearly elucidated and never exceeded.


It is a rudiment principle of law that every power must be exercised within the four corners of law and inside the legal limits. Exercise of administrative power is not an quirk to that basic rule.
It is submitted that the following observations of Frankfurter J in Trop V. Dulles[5], lay down correct legal position:
All power is, in Madison’s phrase ‘of an encroaching complextion’. Judicial power is unsusceptible against this human weakness. It also must be on fortify against encroaching beyond its proper bounds, and not the less so since the only restraint upon it is self restraint.[6]

[1] Chief Constable of the North Wales Police V. Evans (1982) I WLR 1155.

[2] (1980) 3 SCC 625, 677-678: AIR 1980 SC 1789, 1925-1926.

[3] Tata Cellular V. Union of India, (1994) 6 SCC 651: AIR 1996 SC 11, 13.

[4] S. R. Bommai V. Union of India, (1994) 3 SCC 1: AIR 1994 SC 1918. Also see K. Ashok Reddy V. Govt. of India, (1994) 2 SCC 303: AIR 1994 SC 1207 and A. K. Kaul V. Union of India, (1995) 4 SCC 73: AIR 1995 SC 1403.

[5] 2 L Ed 630: 356 US 86 (1958).

[6] Union of India V. Hindustan Development Corpn., (1993) 3 SCC 499: AIR 1994 SC 988.

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