Constitutional Law v. Administrative Law

Administrative law is a subset and corollary of constitutional law, delineating the structure and powers of administrative authorities within a constitutional framework. Though intersecting, they differ across important dimensions:

Supremacy of Constitutional Law

Constitutional law is supreme law, flowing directly from the Constitution whereas administrative law draws validity from constitutional provisions and statutes. If conflict arises, constitutional law prevails.

Genus vs Species

Constitutional law sets the overarching principles defining state organization and powers. Administrative law particularizes these for administrative bodies. Constitutional law is thus the genus, with administrative law the species.

Structure vs Function Orientation

Constitutional law focuses on governmental structure – separation of powers across branches, centre-state allocation etc. Administrative law regulates functioning, detailing powers and duties of administrative authorities when implementing policies.

Comprehensiveness vs Specificity

Constitutional law encompasses guidelines on state structure, powers, function, and officials’ duties across branches. Administrative law narrowly covers administrative units, mechanisms, discretion, and liability.

Static vs Dynamic Makeup

The cumbersome constitutional amendment process lends it relative inflexibility. Administrative law is more dynamic, adapting procedures, mechanisms, and accountability paradigms to evolving governance needs through statute.

Fundamental Rights Interface

By upholding fundamental rights and circumscribing absolute power, constitutional law imposes negative and positive obligations on administration – the former on refraining from transgressions and latter on effectuating welfare. Administrative adherence is thus mandatory.

International Dimension

Constitutional law incorporates directives on foreign affairs while administrative law focuses domestically on agencies’ powers, responsibilities, and operational mechanisms in policy execution.

Constitutional Demarcation of Ministerial Status

Whereas constitutional law defines precise hierarchical status between political executive (Ministers) and career bureaucracy for checks on absolute power, administrative law regulates organizations within the administrative setup.

Guidelines vs Ground Rules

Constitutional law sets overall guiding principles on power contours, administrative responsibility and state-citizen interface. Administrative law creates specific ground rules for administrative functioning, prescribing limits, duties, transparency, accountability and judicial review mechanisms.

Degree of Control

As the supreme law, constitutional strictures reign supreme, compelling administrative compliance. Administrative law norms draw sustenance from and cannot violate constitutional principles though they allow functional autonomy within circumscribed domains.

Overlaps – The Watershed

Despite differences, administrative decisions involving rule formation and individual rights interfaces constitute the watershed where both overlap. Constitutional rights litigation in administrative matters underscores this interconnect. Sound administrative rules and actions upholding constitutionality is thus crucial.

The French Model

In civil law countries like France, specialized quasi-judicial bodies called Tribunals adjudicate public administration disputes, applying principles of separate administrative law (droit administratif). This dual system contrasts common law traditions fusing administrative adjudication within the regular court system under ordinary law.


Administrative law operationalizes constitutional principles to facilitate governance while preventing authoritarian excess. Both aid responsive, rights-compliant public administration. As Justice Bhagwati noted, “The Constitution is a constitutive document, administrative law a regulative one, but intertwined in purpose – governance according to rule of law”.

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