Judicial Review On Administrative Action In Indian Legal System


Deepanshu Gupta

The doctrine of judicial review has been originated and developed by the American Supreme Court, although there is no express provision in the American Constitution for the judicial review. In Marbury v. Madison,the Supreme Court made it clear that it had the power of judicial review. Chief Justice George Marshall said, “Certainly all those who have framed the written Constitution contemplate them as forming the fundamental and paramount law of the nations, and consequently, the theory of every such Government must be that an act of the legislature, repugnant to the Constitution is void”.

There is supremacy of Constitution in U.S.A. and, therefore, in case of conflict between the Constitution and the Acts passed by the legislature, the Courts follow the Constitution and declare the acts to be unconstitutional and, therefore, void. The Courts declare void the acts of the legislature and the executive, if they are found in violation of the provisions of the Constitution.


A. Meaning

Judicial review is a great weapon in the hands of judges. It comprises the power of a court to hold unconstitutional and unenforceable any law or order based upon such law or any other action by a public authority which is inconsistent or in conflict with the basic law of the land.

Broadly speaking, judicial review in India deals with three aspects:

(i)         judicial review of legislative action;

(ii)        judicial review of judicial decision; and

(iii)       judicial review of administrative action.

It is necessary to distinguish between ‘judicial review’ and ‘judicial control’. The term judicial review has a restrictive connotation as compared to the term judicial control. Judicial review is ‘supervisory’, rather than ‘corrective’, in nature. Judicial review is denoted by the writ system which functions in India under Arts. 32 and 226 of the Constitution. Judicial control, on the other hand, is a broader term. It denotes a much broader concept and includes judicial review within itself. Judicial control comprises of all methods through which a person can seek relief against the Administration through the medium of the courts, such as, appeal, writs, declaration, injunction, damages statutory remedies against the Administration.


B. Object

The underlying object of judicial review is to ensure that the authority does not abuse its power and the individual receives just and fair treatment and not to ensure that the authority reaches a conclusion which is correct in the eye of law.

As observed by the Supreme Court in Minerva Mills Ltd. v. Union of India, the Constitution has created an independent judiciary which is vested with the power of judicial review to determine the legality of administrative action and the validity of legislation. It is the solemn duty of the judiciary under the Constitution to keep different organs of the State within the limits of the power conferred upon them by the Constitution by exercising power of judicial review as sentinel on the quo vive. Thus, judicial review aims to protect citizens from abuse or misuse of power by any branch of the state.


C. Judicial Review, Appeal and Revision

It should be remembered that the object and scope of judicial review of administrative action is different from that of appeal. The object of judicial review of administrative action by the ordinary courts is to keep the administrative authorities within the bounds of their powers under the law. Appeal, on the other hand, means that the superior administrative tribunal or court to whom appeal lies under the law, has the power to reconsider the decision of the inferior tribunal on the merits. Appeal, however, is a creature of statue and there is no right of appeal unless there is a specific statutory provision creating that right.

The power of revision is usually placed at the hands of the highest authority, e.g., the State Government, to correct any illegality or irregularity in the proceedings before the inferior authorities. There are: (a) Sometimes the statue expressly states that the power of revision may be exercised suo motu as well as on the application of the party aggrieved; (b) Sometimes the statue only authorizes the superior authority to use his power or revision suo motu or of his own motion, e.g., original s. 33 of the Income-tax Act, 1922. In such a case the party aggrieved has no right to relief and the revisional authority has no duty to perform, on the application of such party; (c) Difficulty of interpretation arises where neither the words ‘suo motu’, nor ‘on application’ are used by the statue.


D. Nature and Scope

Judicial review of administrative action is perhaps the most important development in the field of public law in the second half of this century. In India, the doctrine of judicial review is the basic feature of Indian Constitution. Judicial review is the most potent weapon in the hands of the judiciary for the maintenance of the rule of law. Judicial review is 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 extent and limits of the power of coordinate branches, viz. executive and legislature and to see that they do not transgress their limits. This is indeed a delicate task assigned to the judiciary by the Constitution. Judicial review is thus the touchstone and essence of the rule of law.

The power of judicial review is an integral part of Indian Constitutional system and without it, there will be no government laws and the rule of law would become a teasing illusion and a promise of unreality. The judicial review, therefore, is a basic and essential feature of the Constitution and it cannot be abrogated without affecting the basic structure of the Constitution. In judicial review, the court is not concerned with the merits or correctness of the decision, but with the manner in which the decision is taken or order is made. A court of law is not exercising appellate power and it cannot substitute its opinion for the opinion of the authority deciding the matter.

It is a cardinal principle of Indian Constitution that no one howsoever highly placed and no authority lofty can claim to be the sole judge of its power under the Constitution. The rule of law requires that the exercise power by the legislature or buy the judiciary or by the government or by any other authority must be conditioned by the Constitution. Judicial review is thus the touchstone and repository of the supreme law of the land.In recent times, judicial review of administrative action has become extensive and expansive. The traditional limitations have vanished and the sphere of judicial scrutiny is being expanded. Under the old theory, the courts used to exercise power only in cases of absence or excess or abuse of power. As the State activities have become pervasive and giant public corporations have come in existence, the stake of public exchequer justifies larger public audit and judicial control.

The scope of judicial review in India is not a wide as in USA. The American Supreme Court can declare any law unconstitutional on the ground of its not being in “due process of law”, but the Indian Supreme Court has no such power. In India, outside the limitation imposed on the legislative powers, Parliament and State legislature are supreme in their respective legislative fields and the Court has no authority to question the wisdom or policy of the law duly made by the appropriate legislature. Another reason is because the Indian Supreme Court has consistently refused to declare legislative enactments invalid on the ground that they violate the natural, social or political rights of citizens, unless it could be shown that such injustice was expressly prohibited by the Constitution.


E. Justiciability

Judicial review must be distinguished from justiciability. The two concepts are nor synonymous. The power of judicial review goes to the authority of the court and can be exercised by the court in appropriate cases. Justiciability is not a legal concept with fixes contents, nor is it susceptible of scientific verification. There is not and there cannot be a uniform rule regarding scope and reach of judicial review applicable to all cases. It varies from case to case depending upon subject-matter, nature of right and other relevant factors.

The power of judicial review relates to the jurisidcition of the court whereas justiciablity is hedged by self-imposed judicial restraint. A court exercising judicial review may refrain to exercise its power if it finds that the controversy raised before it is not based on judicially discoverable and manageable standards. Moreover, the area of justicibiality can be reduced or curtailed. Even when, exercise of power is bad, the court in its discretion decline to grant relief considering the facts and circumstances of the case.


F. Limitations

Judicial review has certain inherent limitations. It is suited more for adjudication of disputes than for performing administrative functions. It is for the executive to administer the law and the function of the judiciary is to ensure that the Government carries out its duty in accordance with the provision of the Constitution. Though the court is not expected to act as a court of appeal, nevertheless, it can examine whether the “decision-making process” was reasonable, rational, not arbitrary or not violative of Article 14 of the Constitution. The parameters of judicial review must be clearly defined and never exceeded. If the authority has faultered in its wisdom, the court cannot act as super auditor.

Unless the order passed by an administrative authority is unlawful or unconstitutional, power of judicial review cannot be exercised. An order of administration may be right or wrong. It is the administrator’s right to trial and error and so long as it is bonafide and within the limits of the authority, no interference is called for. In short, power of judicial review is supervisory in nature. Unless this restriction is observed, the court, under the guise of preventing abuse of power by the administrative authority, will itself be guilty of usurping power.


G. Conclusion

It is fundamental principle of law that every power must be exercised within the four corners of law and within the legal limits. Exercise of administrative power is not an exception to that basic rule. The doctrines by which those limits are ascertained and enforced form the very marrow of administrative law. Unfettered discretion cannot exist where the rule of law reigns. Again, all power is capable of abuse, and that the power to prevent the abuse is the acid test of effective judicial review. Under the traditional theory, courts of law used to control existence and extend of prerogative power but not the manner of exercise thereof. That position was, however, considerably modified after the decision in Council of Civil Service Unions v. Minister for Civil Service, wherein it was emphasized that the reviewability of discretionary power must depend upon the subject-matter and not upon its source. The extent and degree of judicial review and justifiable area may vary from case to case.

“All power is, in Madison’s Phrase ‘of an encroaching nature’. Judicial Power is not immune against this human weakness. It also must be on guard against encroaching beyond its proper bounds, and not the less so since the only restraint upon it is self restraint.”