Administrative Law Content
Nature, Scope and Sources of Administrative Law
Sources of Administration Law
Administrative law principles and rules are to be found in many sources. The followings are the main sources of administrative law in Ethiopia.
The F.D.R.E constitution contains some provisions dealing with the manner and principle of government administration and accountability of public bodies and officials. It mainly provides broad principles as to the conduct and accountability of government, the principle of direct democratic participation by citizens and the rule of law. It also embodies the principle of separation of powers by allocating lawmaking power to the house of people‘s representatives, executive power cumulatively to the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, and finally the power to interpret the laws to the judiciary.
Laws adopted by parliament, which may have the effect of creating an administrative agency, or specify specific procedure to be complied by the specific authority in exercising its powers, can be considered a primary sources for the study of administrative law. The statute creating an agency known as enabling act or parent act, clearly determines the limit of power conferred on a certain agency. An administrative action exceeding such limit is an ultra virus, and in most countries the courts will be ready to intervene and invalidate such action. Moreover, parliament, when granting a certain power, is expected to formulate minimum procedure as to how that power can be exercised to ensure fairness in public administration. This can be done, on the one hand, by imposing a general procedural requirement in taking any administrative action mainly administrative rule making and administrative adjudication just like the American Administrative Procedure Act (APA). And on the other hand, parliament in every case may promulgate specific statutes applicable in different situations.
Rules, directives and regulations issued by Council of Ministers and each administrative agencies are also the main focus of administrative law. Administrative law scholarship is concerned with delegated legislation to determine its constitutionality and legality or validity and ensure that it hasn‘t encroached the fundamental rights of citizens. One aspect of such guarantee is subjecting the regulation and directive to comply with some minimum procedural requirements like consultation (public participation) and publication (openness in government administration). Arbitrary exercise of power leads to arbitrary administrative action, which in turn, leads to violation of citizen‘s rights and liberty. Hence, the substance and procedure of delegated legislation is an important source of administrative law.
Much, but not most, of the doctrine that envelops and controls administrative power is found in judicial analysis of other sources. However, much of administrative law will not be found solely in judicial opinions. Furthermore, the opinions themselves must be carefully pursued to avoid generalizations about controls on agency behavior that may not be appropriate, as the outcome of many cases may turn on particular statutory language that may not necessarily reflect the nature of disputes in other agencies.
The American experience as to judicial opinion influencing administrative law is characterized by lack of generalization and fluctuating impacts. These may be due to two reasons. First, cases coming before the courts through judicial review are insignificant compared to the magnitude of government bureaucracy and the administrative process. Second, even as between two apparently similar cases, there is a possibility for points of departure.
Scope of Administrative Law
I- Public Law/Private Law Divide
The boundaries of administrative law extend only when administrative agencies and public officials exercise statutory or public powers, or when performing public duties. In both civil and common-law countries, these types of functions are sometimes called ―public law functions‖ to distinguish them from ―private law functions‖. The former govern the relationship between the state and the individual, whereas the later governs the relationship between individual citizens and some forms of relationships with the state, like relationship based on government contract.
For example, if a citizen works in a state owned factory and is dismissed, he or she would sue as a ―private law function‖. However, if he is a civil servant, he or she would sue as a ―public law function‖. Similarly, if residents of the surrounding community were concerned about a decision to enlarge the state- owned factory because of environmental pollution, the legality of the decision could be reviewed by the courts as a ―public law function.‖ It is also to be noted that a contract between an individual or business organization with a certain administrative agency is a private law function governed by rules of contract applicable to any individual – individual relationship. However, if it is an administrative contract it is subject to different rules (see civ. code art 3136 ff).
The point here is that the rules and principles of administrative law are applicable in a relationship between citizens and the state; they do not extend to cases where the nature of the relationship is characterized by a private law function.
B) Substance vs. Procedure
Many of the definition and approaches to administrative law are limited to procedural aspects of the subject. The focus of administrative law is mainly on the manner and procedure of exercising power granted to administrative agencies by the legislature. Fox describes the trend and interaction between substance and procedure as:
It is the unifying force of the administrative process – in dramatic contrast to the wide variety of substantive problems with which agencies deal- that has persuaded most administrative law professors to concentrate on agency procedure rather than agency substance. Hence, to a wider extent, the study of administrative law has been limited to analyzing the manner in which matters move through an agency, rather than the wisdom of the matters themselves.‘
With respect to judicial review, the basic question asked is not whether a particular decision is ―right‖, or whether the judge, or a the Minister, or officials have come to a different decision. The questions are what is the legal limit of power or reasonable limit of discretion the law has conferred on the official? that power been exceeded, or otherwise unlawfully exercised? Therefore, administrative law is not concerned with the merits of the decision, but with the decision making process.
Presently, the perspectives on administrative law are summarized by two contrasting models labeled by Harlow and Rowling as red light‘ and green light‘ theories. The former is more conservative and control-oriented; the latter is more utilitarian (socialist) in orientation and facilitative in nature. Both significantly serve to describe the concept of administrative law, and to act as normative (i.e. moral and political) suppositions about what its role in society ought to be.
A) Red Light Theory
The red light approach advocates strong role for the courts to review administrative decisions. It considers that the function of law is to control the excesses of state power. ―The red light view can be seen to originate from a political tradition of 19th century laissez faire (minimal state) theory. It embodied a deep-rooted suspicion of governmental power and a desire to minimize the encroachment of the state on the rights (especially property rights) of individuals.
According to this theory of state, the best government is the one that governs least. Wider power means danger to the rights and liberty of citizens. Hence, the red- light theory serves the function of controlling excess and arbitrary power, mainly by the courts. Its descriptive feature is that, on the one hand, it gives much attention on control of governmental power, and on the other hand, it is confident that the effective controlling instrument are the courts through judicial review; As Harlow and Rawlings put it:
―Behind the formalist tradition, we can often discern a preference for a minimalist state. It is not surprising, therefore, to find many authors believing that the primary function of administrative law should be to control any excess of state power and subject it to legal, and more especially judicial control. It is this conception of administrative law that we have called red light theory‖.
B) Green Light Theory
The green light approach considers that the function of administrative law is to facilitate the operation of the state. It is based on the rationale that bureaucrats will function most efficiently in the absence of intervention. Administrative law should aim to help simplifying the procedures and enhance efficiency. It starts from the standpoint of a more positive, largely social and democratic view of the state.
The green light theory is originated from the utilitarian tradition, which proposes promoting the greatest good for the greatest number. According to the utilitarian theory, the state is expected to provide the minimum standards of provision, including housing, education, health, social security, and local services. To provide maximum satisfaction for most of its people, the state should assume a broader role, hence, should possess wider powers. The green light theory broadly supports the introduction of policies aiming at developing public service provisions. Law is perceived as a useful weapon and an enabling tool. It is something very concrete and can provide in principle, at least, the proper authority and framework with which to govern consensually. It regards law not as a controlling mechanism, rather as a facilitative tool. Consequently, it considers the court‘s intervention as an obstacle to efficiency.
Harlow & Rawling write:
“Because they see their own function as the resolution of disputes and because they see the administrative function from the outside, lawyers traditionally emphasize external control through adjudication. To the lawyer, law is the policeman; it operates as an external control, often retrospectively. But a main concern of green light writers is to minimize the influence of the courts. Courts, with their legalistic values, were seen as obstacles to progress and the control which they exercise as unrepresentative and undemocratic. To emphasis a crucial point in green light theory, decision making by an elite judiciary imbued with a legalistic, rights-based ideology and eccentric vision of the „public interest‟ was never a plausible counter to authoritarianism.”