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 Judicial Review of administrative actions is conceivably the most vital enhancement in the arena of public law in the second half of this century. The Judiciary’s most powerful measure for upholding the rule of law is Judicial review. Since the Supreme Court and High Courts are the final arbiters of the constitutional interpretation, it is their responsibility to determine the scope and boundaries of the power of the coordinated divisions namely,  the executive and legislature, and to ensure that they do not exceed those bounds. Therefore, Judicial scrutiny is fundamental to rule of law.

Without the ability to conduct judicial reviews, the Indian constitutional system would not function as intended, and the rule of law would only exist as a tantalizing illusion. The rule of law requires that the exercise of power by any authority must be subject to the conditions of the constitution, and it is a fundamental principle of the Indian Constitution that no one, regardless of their status or lofty claims to be the sole arbiter of there own authority. Thus, judicial review serves as both the yardstick and archive for the Supreme law of the land. Recent years have seen a growth in the scope and depth of judicial review of administrative action. The realm of judicial scrutiny is expanding while the conventional restrictions have disappeared. The courts only used their authority under the previous theory- where there had been no abuse or excess of power. The stake of the public exchequer justifies a larger public audit and judicial control as a result of how pervasive state activities have become and the emergence of massive public corporations.

As observed by the Supreme Court in Minerva Mills Ltd. v. Union Of India[1], An independent judiciary with judicial review authority has been established by the constitution to ascertain the legality of administrative action and the applicability of legislation. By using its authority of judicial review as Sentinel on qui vive, the judiciary has a sacred responsibility to keep various state organs within the bounds of the authority granted to them by the constitution.

Grounds for Judicial Review of Administrative Actions

Judicial review of any administrative action can be exercised on four grounds:

  1. Illegality
  2. Irrationality (unreasonableness)
  3. Procedural impropriety
  4. Proportionality

These grounds of judicial review were developed by Lord Diplock in Council of Civil Services Union v. Minister of Civil Services[2]. The courts can exercise their review jurisdiction over administrative action based on efficiency, fairness, and accountability even though these grounds are not all-inclusive and cannot be enclosed in airtight containers.

  1. Illegality: This ground is based on the principle that administrative authorities must correctly understand the law and its limits before any action is taken. The court may quash an administrative action on the ground of illegality in the following situations.
  2. Lack of Jurisdiction.
  3. Excess of Jurisdiction ( doctrine of ultra vires)
  • Abuse of Jurisdiction
  1. Failure to exercise jurisdiction.
  2. Irrationality( Unreasonableness or Wednesbury Test): Irrationality as a ground of judicial review was established by the court in Associated Provincial House v. Wednesbury[3]. It eventually became the “Wednesbury Test” to assess the “irrationality” of administrative action.

Irrationality in the broadest sense may encompass the following: considering irrelevances while neglecting pertinent ones; abusing one’s position of authority, and exploiting one’s position of authority unscrupulously. However, when used in conjunction with the “ substantive test” it could imply that a particular administrative action is so erroneous that no public authority could possibly conduct it.

  1. Procedural impropriety: A decision’s procedure is just as crucial as the decision itself because an unfair ‘procedure’ makes a decision unreliable. In order to ensure “fair procedure” courts have required it in every administrative proceeding. Where the law is silent courts have ruled that administrative bodies must adhere to natural justice principles, which set forth a fair minimum administrative body must adhere in natural justice principles, which set forth a fair minimum administrative procedure that every administrative body must follow when making a decision that will have positive or negative effects.
  2. Proportionality: proportionality means that due process should not be more severe than necessary to achieve the desired results. This doctrine attempts to tread a fine line between means and ends. While exercising the power of review, proportionality coexists with ‘reasonableness’ and court apparatus.

The above-mentioned grounds for judicial review of administrative action. Has now been whittled down to the fundamental doctrines of test of unreasonableness and doctrine of ultra vires. Aristotle once said that the generation of law falters before the specifies of life, thus the courts while exercising their power of review always try to balance generalities with specifies in order to meet the ends of justice.[4]

Review Effectiveness: The Traffic Light Theories

In order to use the review as a protection against the misuse and abuse of public power, its objective must be taken into consideration, which is a crucial factor. The traffic light theory is particularly helpful in figuring out the function of judicial review. The thesis serves as a means of articulating methods for the management of public and administrative authority by the courts as well as the intention behind how they exercise jurisdiction. The red light theory and the green light theory are two types of traffic light stages that are used as an example of the theory.

According to the red light theory, courts operate as watchdogs whose primary function is to prevent the exploitation of administrative power. It is predicted that the idea that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.Its goal is to maintain judicial oversight over administrative authorities and government entities so that they operate within the boundaries of the law. In many cases, this might result in judicial activism. Rule of law is the keystone of the red light theory. As a result, the citizen’s primary argument against the government and the executive’s power is the legal system.

Conversely, the “green light” perspective sees the court as facilitating administrative justice. They promote good governance and improve administration performance rather than merely limiting executive power. In this approach, the “administrative state” is favoured by the “green light theory”, and administrative law is seen as a tool for bringing about constructive social change. Green light theory naturally concentrates on the alternatives to court, but it must also address the reform and transformation of the judicial system itself. The green light hypothesis likewise places far less value on the juries and courts.

The pros and cons of each theory are different. Therefore, there is a blend of two theories in the preponderance of the judicial framework. To put it another way, the reality is a hybrid of the ‘Amber light theory’ and the pure ‘red’ and ‘green’ light models. A new connection has evolved between the courts and those who derive their authority from the public law, as Sir John Daltonson highlighted in R. v. Lanchashire CountyCouncil[5].It is a collaboration based on a shared objective, such as the upkeep of the highest standards of public administration.


There are inherent restrictions on judicial review. It is more suitable for adjudicating conflicts than carrying out administrative tasks. The responsibility for enforcing the law rests with the executive branch, and the role of the judiciary is to make sure that the government is acting in conformity with the constitutional provisions.[6] Courts have an obligation to limit their considerations to matters of legality. It must evaluate whether a decision-making body overstepped its bounds, made a legal mistake, disregarded the principles of natural justice, or otherwise misused its authority by making a choice that no reasonable person would have made. Even though the court is not supposed to serve as an appeals court, it can nonetheless review whether the “decision-making process” was reasonable. Logical, and not arbitrary, or whether it did not violate Article 14 of the constitution. The limits of judicial review must be made crystal clear and never crossed. The court cannot serve as an auditor if the authority erred in judgement. The right to judicial review cannot be used unless the administrative authority’s decision is unlawful or unconstitutional. Administrative decisions might be made in the right or wrong way. Trial and error are within the purview of the administration, and as long as they are legitimate and within the scope of the authority, there is no need for interference. In a nutshell, the power of review has a supervisory function. If this restriction is not followed, the court will be in violation of usurpation of authority under the pretence of fillet the administrative authority’s misuse of power.[7]

Last but not least, Judicial review has many different forms of complaints. To begin with, a review is defined as peripheral in three different ways, the first of which is that it doesn’t take into account issues that aren’t “justiciable” or of a kind that may be resolved by a court of law. Furthermore, there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate that administrators’ decision-making processes are altered in any manner as a result of the results of unfavourable judicial review decisions. In conclusion, applicants may not always receive the type of remedy they sought for. The claimants typically want a favourable substantive result, not just the same unfavourable decisions recreated in compliance with procedural rules.

The second critique is that the review is unfavourable and backwards-looking. This means that evaluation focuses on past poor administrative decisions and attempts to correct errors that have already happened, rather than gradually assuring better future administrative decision-making[8].

Third, the review is chastised for being slow, costly, time-consuming and extremely mysterious to the average individual. 

The criticism’s final takeaway is that, while it is true that judicial review is subject to criticism, it is only problematic when the review is compelled to serve a purpose other than the one for which it was designed. There should be more proactive and forward and forward-thinking ways to support good governance, for instance, despite the fact that reviews are inherently pessimistic and negative. In this manner, judicial review would continue to be a curative power of the courts and would only be used as a last resort to address flagrant legal errors.

Author(s) Name: Kanan Joshi (Law College Dehradun)


[1]AIR 1980 SC 1789

[2](1984) 3 All ER 935 (HL)

[3](1948) KB 223

[4]L.P. Massey, Administrative law, p 399( Eastern Book Company, Lucknow 7thedn. 2008) 

[5](1986) 2 All ER 945

[6] S.RBommai v. Union of India AIR1994 SC 344

[7]Ibid.,see also, Tata Cellular v. Union of India, AIR 1996 SC 11

[8] Fuller “The Forms and Limits of Adjudication” p 353. 92 Harvard LR, (1978-1979)