Administrative law is primarily concerned with the manner of exercising governmental power. The decision making process is more important than the decision itself. Secondly, administrative law cannot fully be defined without due regard to the functional approach. This is to mean that the function (purpose) of administrative law should be the underlying element of any definition. The ultimate purpose of administrative law is controlling exercise of governmental power. The control aspect‘ impliedly shades some light on the other components of its definition.
Austin has defined administrative law, as the law which determines the ends and modes to which the sovereign power shall be exercised. In his view, the sovereign power shall be exercised either directly by the monarch or indirectly by the subordinate political superiors to whom portions of those powers are delegated or committed in trust.
Davis who represents the American approach defines administrative law as; ―The law that concerns the powers and procedures of administrative agencies, specially the law governing judicial review of administrative action.‖
Massey gives a wider and working definition of administrative law in the following way.
“ Administrative law is that branch of public law which deals with the organization and powers of administrative and quasi administrative agencies and prescribes the principles and rules by which an official action is reached and reviewed in relation to individual liberty and freedom”
It studies powers of administrative agencies. The nature and extent of such powers is relevant to determine whether any administrative action is ultra-vires or there is an abuse of power. It studies the rules, procedures and principles of exercising these powers. Parliament, when conferring legislative or adjudicative power on administrative agencies, usually prescribes specific rules governing the manner of exercising such powers. In some cases, the procedure may be provided as a codified act applicable to all administrative agencies. It also studies rules and principles applicable to the manner of exercising governmental powers such as principles of fairness, reasonableness, rationality and the rules of natural justice.
Administrative agencies while exercising their powers may exceed the legal limit abuse their power or fail to comply with minimum procedural requirements. Administrative law studies control mechanisms like legislative & institutional control and control by the courts through judicial review.
It studies remedies available to aggrieved parties whose rights and interests may be affected by unlawful and unjust administrative actions. Administrative law is concerned with effective redress mechanisms to aggrieved parties. Mainly it is concerned with remedies through judicial review, such as certiorari, mandamus, injunction and habeas corpus.
Differences between Constitutional and Administrative Law
Therefore, Keith observed:
“It is logically impossible to distinguish administrative from constitutional law and all attempts to do so are artificial”.
However, according to Holland, “Constitutional law describes the various organs of the government at rest, while administrative law describes them in motion”
Therefore, according to this view, the structure of the legislature and executive comes within the purview of the constitutional law but there functioning comes within the sphere of administrative law.
According to Jennings– administrative law deals with the organization, functions, powers, and duties of administrative authorities while constitutional law deals with the general principles relating to the organization and powers of the various organs of the state and their mutual relationship of these organs with the individuals. In other words, constitutional law deals with fundamentals while administrative law deals with details.
Differences Between the Constitutional and Administrative Law of India
Accordingly to Keith: “It is logically impossible to distinguish administrative law from constitutional law and all attempts to do so are artificial.” But still some of the most important differences between the constitutional and administrative law of India are:
- It is the supreme and highest law of the country. No law can be regarded above the law of the constitution of India.
- The constructional law is always regarded as the genus. It is the main law.
- This law mainly deals with various organs of a state.
- It mainly deals with the structure of the state.
- It touches all the branches of law and gives guidelines with regard to the general principle relating to organization and powers of organs of the state, and their relations between citizens and towards the state.
- It also gives guidelines about intentional relations.
- It deals with the general principle of state pertaining to all branches.
- It demarcates the constitutional status of Ministers and public servants.
- It imposes certain negative duties on administrators if they are found violating the fundamental rights of the citizens and etc. It also imposes certain positive duties on administrators, viz, implementation of social welfare schemes.
- The constitutional laws have complete control over the administrative law and administrators of the country.
- It is not the supreme law of the country rather it is subordinate to the constitutional law.
- Administrative law is the species of constitutional law.
- It deals with the organs of the state as motion.
- It mainly deals with the various functions of the state.
- It doesn’t deal with all branches of law, rather it details with the powers and functions of administrative authorities.
- It does not deal with international law. It deals exclusively with the powers and functions of administrative authorities.
- It deals with the powers and functions of administrative authorities, including services, public departments, local authorities and other statutory bodies exercising administrative powers, quasi-judicial powers, etc.
- It is concerned with the organization of the services or the working of the various government departments.
- The administrators have to follow constitutional law first and next to the administrative law.
- The administrators should perform their functions with utmost obedience to constitutional law. Administrative law is just a subordinate to constitutional law.
On his part, Foulks: Administrative law 7th edition, page 1, defines:
Administrative law is the law relating public administration. It is concerned with the legal forms and constitutional status of public authorities; with their powers and duties and with the procedures followed in exercising them; with their legal relationships with one another, with the public and with their employees; which seek, in varied ways, to control their activities.
H.W.R.Wade & C.F.Forsyth, (1994), Administrative law, 7th edition
In his view, Wade: Administrative law 7th edition pg 4, defines Administrative law in the following words:
A first approximation to a definition of Administrative law is to say that “it is the law relating to the control of government power”
Wade asserts “the primary purpose of Administrative law, therefore, is to keep the powers of government within their legal bounds, so as to protect the citizen against their abuse. The powerful engines of authority must be prevented from running ‘amok’.” Wade further contends that “abuse”, it should be made clear, carries no necessary innuendo of malice or bad faith. He further elaborates this by stating that government departments may misunderstand their legal position as easily as many other people and the law which they have to administer is frequently complex and uncertain. Abuse is therefore inevitable, and it is all the more necessary that the law should provide means to check it. In addition to this, Wade further asserts that it is also the concern of administrative law to see that public authorities can be compelled to perform their duties if they make default. At page 5, Wade tries to distinguish functions of Administrative law from the structure by giving a second approximation to a definition of Administrative law. He thus states “It may be said to be a body of general principles which govern the exercise of powers and duties by public authorities”. In this regard, Wade contends that “the whole of Administrative law may indeed be treated as a branch of Constitutional law since is flows directly from the constitutional principles of the rule of law, the sovereignty of parliament and the independence of the judiciary; and, it does much to determine the balance of power between the state and the citizens.” To this extent, Wade further asserts, “As liberty is subjected, justice must be added. That the more power the government wields, the more sensitive its public opinion to any kind of abuse or unfairness. The machinery of Administrative justice therefore combines Administrative authorities, Administrative functions, judicial control and how that control and authority can be exercised.
It is important to note is that the whole essence of Administrative law is to advocate for or uphold natural justice most especially for public servants or any other person appearing before an administrative tribunal.