Judicial Review of Administrative Actions under Administrative Law

Judicial review is the power of the courts to examine the actions of administrative bodies to determine whether they are consistent with the law. Through judicial review, courts act as a check on administrative power to safeguard against abuse of power and violation of rights. Judicial review aims to ensure that the executive and administrative arms of government operate within their constitutionally and statutorily prescribed limits of power.

The source of power of judicial review lies in the Constitution – Articles 32, 226 and the power of High Courts to issue writs. Over the years, courts have developed rules and doctrines to maintain judicial control over administrative excesses and keep the administration within legal bounds without impinging on the government’s policy-making role. The exercise seeks to balance individual rights and larger public interest. This article examines key aspects concerning judicial review of administrative actions under administrative law jurisprudence evolved by Indian higher judiciary.

Also Read: Notes on Administrative Law

Doctrines Governing Exercise of Judicial Review Powers

Certain doctrines have developed through judicial decisions that govern how courts exercise powers of judicial review of administrative actions. These help regulate intervention in policy or discretionary domains of administration. Important ones are:

  1. Doctrine of Procedural Propriety: Failure to comply with important procedural safeguards like hearing, notice, or times limits could invalidate administrative decisions. But inconsequential technical flaws may not justify interference. Courts use balancing tests to decide based on harm caused.
  2. Wednesbury Principles of Reasonableness: Associated Provincial Picture Houses Ltd. v. Wednesbury Corporation, (1948) laid down that courts will not intervene to examine merits or correctness of administrative decisions. But judicial review is permissible on limited grounds like irrationality, perversity, and patent unreasonableness in decision. This means that the decision is so outrageous or absurd that no sensible person applying his mind could have arrived at it.
  3. Doctrine of Legitimate Expectation: Where a regular practice creates reasonable expectation that an authority will follow a certain procedure, courts may intervene if such legitimate expectation is violated without overriding public interest. Courts however don’t secure legal rights but only procedural protections.
  4. Doctrine of Proportionality: Punitive actions of authorities should not be excessive but proportionate to faults or infractions to comply with this doctrine. Disproportionate orders that violate this ground are liable to be set aside judicially.

Courts in India have also evolved concepts like epistolary jurisdiction, continuing mandamus and constitutional torts, expanding the idea of judicial review itself. Public interest litigation has made access to review remedies easier, especially for underprivileged sections.

Distinction between Public Law and Private Law Review

There are two broad regimes through which judicial review over administration is undertaken:

  1. Public Law Review: Here, review happens through writ petitions before High Courts under Article 226 and Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution. Grounds for intervention include violation of constitutional rights or statutory powers through mechanical exercise of jurisdiction, total absence of jurisdiction, violations of principles of natural justice, bias, mala fides etc. Remedies include issue of directions and prerogative writs. Focus is on public duties imposed under Constitution and statutes.
  2. Private Law Review: Under this review, powers emanate from ordinary laws like Contract, Tort etc. Subordinate civil courts or consumer forums approach administrative actions like contractual disputes, tortious liability where government is in same position as a private party before law. Issues relate to determinations of private rights and corresponding liabilities/remedies like damages, injunctions and declarations.

The choice depends on nature of administrative action impugned and type of grievance raised. Rule of law requires that administration should remain bound by ordinary laws even in dealing with private parties. Attempt is to balance public interest with protection of individual rights.

Writ Jurisdiction of High Courts and Supreme Court

The High Courts and Supreme Court derive power of judicial review from the Constitution of India. While Article 32 of the Constitution vests power of an activist kind exclusively in the Supreme Court for enforcement of fundamental rights, Article 226 confers a discretionary power on all High Courts in the country to issue writs including for any non-fundamental rights violations.

Some leading cases highlighting expansive understanding taken by courts regarding constitutional powers of judicial review through writs are:

  1. In State of Uttaranchal v. Balwant Singh Chaufal, (2010) 3 SCC 402, the Supreme Court held that power under Article 32 stands widely recognized as a guarantor and protector of fundamental human rights and universal access to justice is its integral aspect.
  2. In L. Chandra Kumar v. Union of India, (1997) 3 SCC 261, it was held that power of High Courts under Article 226 and Supreme Court under Article 32 is paramount and shall always prevail over ordinary statutes. Jurisdiction under Articles 32 and 226 is a basic feature of the Constitution.
  3. In Dwarka Prasad Laxmi Narain v. State of Uttar Pradesh, (1954) SCR 803, the Supreme Court highlighted that Article 226 confers very wide discretionary and equitable jurisdiction on High Courts to issue writs against any authority for enforcement of fundamental as well as ordinary legal rights.

While the Supreme Court can take cognizance only when there is substantial violation of a fundamental right, under Article 226, a writ petition can be moved before the High Court both for violation of fundamental rights as well as where non-fundamental rights are at stake.

Types of Writs under Judicial Review Jurisdiction

The constitutional courts chiefly exercise judicial review powers by issuance of five types of writs under Articles 32, 226 and also 227. Important writ remedies evolved are:

  1. Habeas Corpus: This commands production of illegally detained person before court to adjudicate legality of such detention. Grounds include absence of jurisdiction, violation of principles of natural justice, mala fide exercise of power etc. In Kanu Sanyal v. District Magistrate, it was held that physical appearance is not mandatory if it threatens public peace.
  2. Mandamus: This is issued to direct statutory and public authorities to perform mandatory duties owed to an individual if prerequisites like demand, refusal etc. exist. It aims to remedy inaction or failure to act. However, in UoI v. T.R. Varma, (1958) SCR 499, the Supreme Court made it clear that mandamus cannot issue to enforce contractual obligations between parties.
  3. Prohibition: The Supreme Court or High Court can pass this writ directing an inferior court or tribunal exercising quasi-judicial functions not to proceed on a matter without or in excess of its jurisdiction or in contravention of principles of natural justice etc. The difference from certiorari is that it is available at a pre-decision stage if statutory authority is threatening to overstep authority.
  4. Certiorari: Under this, higher courts quash decisions of authorities reached while acting without or in excess of jurisdiction or in violation of principles of natural justice or that are manifestly perverse and patently illegal. Certiorari operates post an impugned decision. It is a limited form of review – courts can only quash but not substitute decisions or assessments made.
  5. Quo Warranto: Through this writ, judiciary inquires into legality of claim of a person to public office. Prerequisite conditions include office being public exhibiting government control, substantive in nature and person already occupying office. In University of Mysore v. C.D. Govinda Rao, (1965) it was held that E.C. cannot intervene to remove on grounds of procedural lapses in appointment.

Recourse to these writs depends on timing of intervention sought, grounds raised and type of public office or action involved etc. Courts also blend remedies with interlocutory directions based on case exigencies.

Key Procedural Doctrines Governing Judicial Review

Over the course of time, judiciary has itself laid down certain doctrines and rules regulating exercise of its own judicial review powers under writ jurisdiction. Following are among the notable ones:

  1. Exhaustion of Alternative Remedies: Based on equity principle that extraordinary constitutional powers must be exercised with restraint, locus standi rules initially mandated that the party must first exhaust other remedies before invoking writ. However, in Chief Controller of Imports v. Mohanlal, (1975) 2 SCC 836, the Supreme Court held that while existence of alternative remedies is relevant for writ exercise, efficacy of such remedies will determine whether constitutional powers under Article 226 may be invoked ignoring available statutory modes of redressal.
  2. No Mandamus for Contract Enforcement: Courts generally don’t issue mandamus for securing contractual rights, damages claims or specific relief through writs. The domain of enforcing contractual obligations is meant for ordinary civil courts, not constitutional courts exercising public law powers. However, writ can issue where substantial public interest is involved.
  3. Rule Against Bias and Principles of Natural Justice: Violation of principles of impartial hearing and fair administrative procedure constitute common grounds for exercise of judicial review powers and writ jurisdiction.

Thus over the years, while reticence marked initial period, judiciary later expanded contours of review powers through doctrines like continuing mandamus, substantive due process, public accountability etc. Reasonableness, good faith and larger public good have guided evolution of principles regulating review processes.

Private Law Remedies Complementing Judicial Review

The scope of judicial review mechanisms extends beyond writ remedies under constitutional law to incorporate within its fold dispute adjudication powers of ordinary courts under specific statutes or common law principles, providing dual protection to citizens. When government or its instrumentalities function in the same way as private entities, jurisdiction of civil courts can be invoked to enforce accountability and legal compliance like any citizen through private law remedies. These operate as supplementary avenues for securing judicial review over administration. Main remedies include:

  1. Injunctions: These are discretionary equitable remedies ordering a party to do or desist from doing a certain act. Both permanent prohibitory injunctions and temporary injunctions are suited to check administrative actions. Courts apply ‘balance of convenience’ tests to determine whether to grant injunction against public authorities.
  2. Declarations: These clarify legal position between parties without directly providing any actual relief or remedy. They accrue precedential value guiding future conduct. Requires consequential reliefs too.
  3. Damages: Compensate plaintiff for loss suffered due to acts of omission or commission of defendants. To avoid multiplicity, in constitutional torts (violation of fundamental rights), courts may award compensation if facts are undisputed and chain of causation is established.

The presence of efficacious remedies like injunctions adds to the array of options available before judiciary in keeping administration within legal bounds and thus furthers the objective of accountability that judicial review seeks to secure.

Concluding Analysis

Administrative law jurisprudence has seen significant advance across both procedural and substantive aspects of judicial review law. While earlier excessive judicial activism witnessed recalibration, continuing mandamus and structural injunctions have allowed nuanced interventions balancing review with restraint. Tests of proportionality and legitimate expectation have brought substantive depth.

The basic objective is to achieve reasoned decision making where discretionary choices incorporate filtered influences of law, policy, ethics, pragmatism and experience. This mediatory approach preserves semantic unity of rule of law in letter and spirit, best exemplified through integrated exercise of constitutional and statutory review mechanisms – weaving a holistic accountability web for citizens and governments alike. Easy accessibility, contextual understanding and dynamic remedies hold the key to a responsive review framework. Innovation of existing doctrines coupled with articulation of new standards reflecting socio-political realities will shape future evolution of judicial review guiding interplay of power, justice and rights in a democracy.

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