Administrative Law, as the name indicates, is the law relating to the administration. But when we describe administrative law in this manner, it does not tell us anything about the content or scope of the subject. A better way of describing administrative law would, therefore, be to say that it is the law relating to the control of governmental power. Any government wields enormous power and we know that any power is liable to be abused. Fortunately, the powers of government are limited by law. There is no such thing as absolute or unfettered administrative power. The primary purpose of administrative law is to keep administrative powers within their legal limits, so as to protect the citizen against their abuse. It is also the concern of administrative law to see that public authorities are compelled to perform their duties. We may thus say that administrative law consist of the body of general principles which govern the exercise of powers and duties by public authorities.
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Development Of Administrative Law
The modern classification of functions of the government into Legislative, Executive and Judicial is based on the Doctrine of Separation of Powers propounded by Montesquieu. Montesquieu’s theory of separation of powers champions the cause of political liberty and envisages not only a strict separation of powers for all the three organs but also an inbuilt mechanism where each power automatically exercises control to prevent abuse of power by the other powers. Thus, in operation, the legislature, executive and judiciary exercise a check over the over the another thus upholding ‘political liberty’.
A complete separation of powers in the sense of the three functions of a government in three independent sets of organs with no overlapping or co-ordination would have been, perhaps, possible in the 19th century Laissez Faire State, which envisaged minimum government control, maximum free enterprise and contractual freedom. All the three organs of the ‘Laissez Faire’ state perform only the basic functions (like Law and Order, Collection of Taxes etc.) which are necessary to maintain the state. In short, the government had a negative role to play in the 19th century.
The failure of the Laissez Faire doctrine led to the emergence of the social welfare state which laid emphasis on a positive role for the state and called upon the state to act as a vehicle for socioeconomic regeneration and welfare of the people. The social welfare concept has resulted in state activism, wherein the state has the avowed aim to improve the physical, moral and economic conditions of the people. This increase in state activities has meant increased work for all the organs of government, i.e. legislature, the executive and the judiciary. However the largest extension in depth and range of functions and powers has taken place at the level of the executive cum administrative organs. In the recent past the powers of the administrative organs have grown vastly, and the domination of the administrative branch is on the ascendancy.
Such a vast role for administration naturally makes it impossible for the strict application of the “Doctrine of separation of powers”. Administrative or Executive authorities are many a time required to make subordinate legislation, i.e., rules, regulations, notifications, orders and the like in the exercises of power conferred on them by the statutes. administrative authorities also exercise quasi-judicial power, i.e., they determine the rights and obligations of parties without actually being courts. To enable the administration to execute effectively its rule making, adjudication and other discretionary and regulatory functions, it has been given vast powers of enquiry, inspection, investigation search, seizure and supervision. Thus in the modern day administration impinges more and more on the individual and has acquired the tremendous capacity to effect the rights and liberties of the people. It is a demand of prudence that when such vast powers are conferred on the administrative organs an effective control mechanism must also be evolved so as to ensure that the administrators do not use their powers in an undue manner or for an unwarranted purpose. This demand has led to the development of a new branch of law that ensures that the governmental functions are exercised according to law on proper legal principles and according to rules of reasoning and justice without unduly hampering the administration for the discharge of its functions effectively. This specialized branch of law carne to be known as Administrative Law.
Definitions Of Administrative Law
Popularly, Administrative law could be described as the Law relating to the administration. Accordingly to Sir Ivor Jennings, it determines the organization, powers and the auties of administrative authorities. A slightly modified version is given by Wade and Phillips who defined Administrative law as a branch of public law which is concerned with the position, powers, duties, rights and liberties of the various organs of government which are engaged in administration. Massey has summed up the concept of administrative law in the following words: Administrative law is that branch of public law which deals with the organization and powers of administrative and quasi administrative agencies and prescribed principles and rules by which an official action is reached and reviewed in relation to individual liberty and freedom.
From the above definitions we can infer that administrative law encompasses the following:
- Composition and powers of organs of administration.
- The limits on the powers of administrative authority.
- The procedures used in exercising the powers by the administrative authority,
- The control of administration through judicial and other means.