Unlike other fields of law, administrative law is a recent phenomenon and can fairly be described as ‗infant.‘ Historically, its emergence could be dated back to the end of the 19th century. This era marked the advent of the welfare state‘ and the subsequent withering away of ‗the police state.‘ The interventionist role of the welfare state practically necessitated the increment of the nature and extent of power of governments. Simultaneous, with such necessity came the need for controlling the manner of exercise of power so as to ensure protection of individual rights, and generally legality and fairness in the administration. With such background, administrative law, as a legal instrument of controlling power, began to grow and develop too fast. Typically, with the proliferation of the administrative agencies, administrative law has shown significant changes in its nature, purpose and scope.
Presently, administrative law, in most legal systems, is significantly developed and undoubtedly recognized as a distinct branch of law. However the path followed to reach at this stage is not uniform and similar in most countries. Administrative law is unique to a specific country. Such uniqueness can be explained by the fact that it is the outcome of the political reality, economic circumstances and the nature of the legal system prevailing in that country. It is also highly influenced by the constitutional structure, the system of government and principles of the public administration adopted by that country.
Generally, the proliferation of the administrative agencies and the expansion of delegated legislation were two significant factors for the growth of the administrative law in most countries. The 20th century marked with the vast increase of administrative agencies with vast and wide-ranging powers. This necessitated legislative measures and judicial interference aimed at controlling the manner of exercise of power of these entities so as to ensure protection of individual rights and freedoms. As a result, most countries introduced specific and comprehensive rules and procedures governing administrative adjudication and rule-making. In US, the Administrative Procedure Act which was made law in 1946 is one such example of a comprehensive response to deal with the growing power of agencies. Since then, the landscape of the history of the American administrative law has been changed significantly. Similarly, in England the Statutory Instrument Act was promulgated in the same year (1946) even though it was not as comprehensive and influential as the American counterpart. The Act was a direct response to the ever increasing power of agencies, more specifically, the delegation power of agencies. In the 1920s fear developed about the volume and nature of the delegated legislation being produced, which was not receiving parliamentary scrutiny; many sought necessary or desirable.
In 1929, lord chief justice Lord Hewart published The New Despotism in which he railed against what he saw as dangerous and uncontrolled growth of bureaucratic power. In 1932, the report of the Donoughmore-Scott Committee on Ministers‘ powers was issued. The report, amongst other things, explained the inevitability of the delegated legislation, and also suggested some safeguards. The report also recommended better scrutiny of the vesting in Ministers of ‗oppressive‘ powers. This, finally, led to the enactment of the Statutory Instruments Act of the 1946.
However, the growth of the administrative law is not limited to statutory prescriptions of rules and procedures governing the administrative process. Courts have also played important roles in shaping the form, substance and scope of the administrative law. In England, until the Second World War and in the period immediately following 1945, courts continued limiting the scope of their controls. Such judicial restraint was relaxed after the 1960s and there was judicial revival and activism with the judiciary reclaiming their proper role of ensuring the legality and fairness of exercise of governmental powers. In America, where the judiciary has firmly asserted its strong position in checking the constitutionality of parliamentary legislation, the courts didn‘t hesitate to review administrative decision, including delegated legislation.
In France, Italy, Germany and in a number of other countries, there is a separate system of administrative courts which deal with administrative cases exclusively. As a natural consequence, administrative law has developed on its own independent lines, and is not enmeshed with ordinary private law as it is in the Anglo-American system.