Purpose of Administrative Law

There has never been any serious doubt that administrative law is primarily concerned with the control of power. With the increase in level of state involvement in many aspects of everyday life during the first 80 years of the twentieth century, the need for a coherent and effective body of rules to govern relations between individuals and the state became essential. The 20th century saw the rise of the “regulatory state” and a consequent growth in administrative agencies of various kinds engaged in the delivery of a wide variety of public programs under statutory authority. This means, in effect, the state nowadays controls and supervises the lives, conduct and business of individuals in so many ways. Hence controlling the manner of exercise of public power so as to ensure rule of law and respect for the right and liberty of individuals may be taken as the key purpose of administrative law.

According to Peer Leyland and Tery Woods (Peter Leyland and Terry Woods, Textbook on Administrative Law, 4th ed. ) Administrative law embodies general principles applicable to the exercise of the powers and duties of authorities in order to ensure that the myriad and discretionary powers available to the executive conform to basic standards of legality and fairness. The ostensible purpose of these principles is    to ensure that there is accountability, transparency and effectiveness in exercising of power in the public domain, as well as the observance of rule of law.

Peer Leyland and Tery Woods have identified the following as the underlying purposes of administrative law.

  • It has a control function, acting in a negative sense as a brake or check in respect of the unlawful exercise or abuse of governmental/ administrative                                 power.
  • It can have a command function by making public bodies perform their statutory duties, including the exercise of discretion under a statute.
  • It embodies positive principles to facilitate good administrative practice; for example, in ensuring that the rules of natural justice or fairness are adhered      to.
  • It operates to provide accountability and transparency, including      participation by interested individuals and parties in the process of government.
  • It may provide a remedy for grievances at the hands of public authorities.

Similarly I.P. Massey (I.P. Massey, Administrative Law, 5th ed.) identifies the four basic bricks of the foundation of administrative law as:

  • To check abuse of administrative power.
  • To ensure to citizens an impartial determination of their disputes by officials so as to protect them from unauthorized encroachment of their rights and interests.
  • To make those who exercise public power accountable to the people.

To realize these basic purposes, it is necessary to have a system of administrative law rooted in basic principles of rule of law and good administration. A comprehensive, advanced and effective system of administrative law is underpinned by the following three broad principles:

Administrative justice, which at its core, is a philosophy that in administrative decision- making the rights and interests of individuals should be properly safe guarded.

Executive accountability, which has the aim of ensuring that those who exercise the executive (and coercive) powers of the state can be called on to explain and justify the way in which they have gone about that task.

Good administration- Administrative decision and action should conform to universally accepted standards, such as rationality, fairness, consistency and transparency.