Judicial Review Of Administrative Discretion

Author: Mohini Singh

NMIMS, School of Law, Mumbai

Co-Author: Aman Deep Sharan

Tamil Nadu National Law University, Trichy

ISSN: 2582-3655


Judicial review of administrative discretion has become necessary in modern days to avoid abuse and arbitrary exercise of power by the administrators. It is important to have a check on the powers of this authority. The Supreme Court of India through its judgments has made it clear that the discretionary exercise of the powers has to be done according to rule of law and principles of Natural Justice. Judicial review is required so that no authority can exercise its power arbitrarily. Judicial review acts as a weapon so that no authority can misuse their powers and should give only fair treatment. This paper is going to analyze the importance of judicial review in administrative discretion and why there is a need for such review. This paper is going to mention the most important judgments given in the light of a judicial review of administrative discretion.


“Judicial review is a protection and not a weapon.”[1]

Administrative discretion basically means to flexible exercise its judgment and decision-making power invested in any public administrators. It is important to review the administrative discretion as it is possible that the public interest can be at risk. Judicial review is the supreme power that the judiciary possesses. Judicial review is certainly an omnipotent weapon in the hands of the judiciary to restrain the administrative authority from abusing or misusing its power and provide just and fair treatment to the common man in the spirit of law[2]. The purpose of judicial review is to keep the administrative authorities within the bounds of the powers conferred upon them by the statute. It is then a touchstone and the essence of rule of law.[3]  Judicial review is important as the immense the discretion is, there is more possibility of its being misused.  All administrative powers possess legal limits. The wider the power, the greater is the need for restraint in its exercise.[4]

Where no law exists men must be arbitrary and very necessary acts of the government will often be represented by the interested and malevolent.[5] So there arises the need to have control over discretionary powers of the administration to ensure that there will be a government of laws and not of men.[6]

It is also the duty of the courts to see that the discretionary powers empowered in the hands of the administrators is not abused and the powers inferred to the administrators is used properly and in the right way and in the interest of the public. It is with this view that courts take strict legal actions on the extensive discretion.

Thus, this paper analyzes the role of judicial review in administrative discretion to perceive to what extent the judiciary has succeeded in controlling the misuse of the powers of the administrators to establish a welfare society. This paper also speaks about why it is important for the judiciary to review administrative discretion.


  1. Administrative Law, IP. Massey, Eastern Book Company,2011.

This book shows the readers of sociological as well as a historical perspective of administrative law. The cases mentioned in the books make the basic understanding of administrative law principles such as natural justice and rule of law more understandable. The author in this book has used simple language for the readers to understand and grab their own views towards administrative law.

  • Lectures on Administrative Law, C.K Takwani, Eastern Book Company

This book on Administrative law is useful to all the students to understand basics and to differentiate between administrative and constitutional law. This book is also useful to understand the principle of Natural Justice by applying it in the laws of administration. This book clearly talks about the judicial review of administrative discretion in simple language.

  • Principles of Administrative law, MP Jain, Lexis Nexis, 2017

This book makes the understanding of laws and principles easy through a number of significant judicial pronouncements and views of the Judges. This book also mentioned the interpretation of administrative laws from license day’s raj to the public disinvestment period. This book has all the significant contents for administrative law.


The research paper uses the qualitative and descriptive method of study with the help of Primary sources such as case laws, bare acts, and secondary sources such as eBooks and other online sources. The author has used Bluebook (20th edition) for the Citation.


“Judicial review is concerned not with the decision but with the decision-making process. Judicial review is not an appeal from a decision, but the review of the manner in which a decision is made. The power of judicial review is meant to ensure that the individual receives fair treatment and not to ensure that the conclusion which the administrative authority has reached is correct in the eyes of law.[7]

  • Lord Brightman

With moving time, courts have applied many principles and laws so that the administrators stay within their bounds and they don’t abuse or arbitrary exercise their power of discretion. In a country like India where there is a written Constitution, judicial review has been considered as “heart and core[8]” of it, and which is served as the “basic and essential feature of the Constitution[9]” and the “safest possible safeguard[10]” against the arbitrary exercise of power by any administrative authority, this power of judiciary cannot be taken away from them. Administrative discretion is not an unlimited power given to the administrators but it has developed from case to case. It is an established fact that no authority may be permitted to exercise the discretion vested in it unless it satisfies the test of justifiable grounds supported by acceptable materials and reasons thereof.[11]

The court discharges its duties only to the extent of legality to be tested on the basis of important factors that the administrative authority has exceeded its powers, committed an error of law, and caused breaches of the rules of natural justice, reached a decision which no reasonable person would have reached or abused its power.[12] Lord Diplock has mentioned grounds on which review of administrative discretion is necessary: (a) illegality; (b) irrationality and (c) procedural impropriety.[13]

The very purpose of judicial review is to find out and determine whether the inquiry was held by a competent person; whether the rules of natural justice were complied with; whether findings were based on evidence; whether the administrative authority has jurisdiction to take such decisions.[14] Judicial review of administrative discretion can be exercised if:


No authority can exercise this power unless discretionary power is vested in them. In the case of R v Minister of transport[15], the minister had no power to revoke the license but still, he passed an order of revocation. The action by the minister was held ultra-vires as he acted without jurisdiction if he had any power as such then there was no need for judicial review. The object of the doctrine of ultra-vires is the protection of the people against the administrative authorities whenever they go against the spirit of the statute and exercise the powers conferred on them contrary to the law contained in the statute.[16] The doctrine of Ultra- vires prevents any authority from acting outside its authority.

The doctrine of ultra-vires also applies when an authority having discretionary power has not exercised that power within the limits of the statute. In the case of Additional District Magistrate (Rev.) v. Siri Ram, the Court held that the conferment of rule-making power does not enable the rule-making authority to make a rule which travels beyond the scope of enabling Act or which is inconsistent therewith or repugnant thereto.[17]


If the action exercised by administrative authority is arbitrary, discriminated, and unreasonable, the action can be set aside by the judiciary in the exercise of their power of judicial review. Where a person in authority acts on the basis of prejudice or preference rather than on reason of facts. The act done by any authority must be illogical, whimsical, or malafide. In the case of Ranjit Thakur[18], the judges observed that conviction and rigorous imprisonment for 1 year added with the dismissal of service of a superior military officer was held disappropriate and arbitrary.                                       


A power conferred on an authority by a statue must be exercised on the considerations relevant to the purpose for which it is conferred. If the authority takes into account irrelevant factors the action will be bad or ultra vires. If any statute mentions the relevant criteria that have to be taken into consideration while exercising its power, it becomes easy for the courts to review the discretionary power of the authority. The court may by looking into the purpose and provisions of the Act, assess whether extraneous or irrelevant considerations have been applied by the administration.[19] Judiciaries in many cases have also held that it is necessary for the authority exercising its discretionary power to exercise according to the purpose and object of that statute. In the case of R.L.Arora v State of U.P.[20], under the land acquisition act, the state government was authorized to acquire land for a company if the government was satisfied that such acquisition is needed for the construction of the work and that such work is likely to prove useful to the public.


Any power has to be exercised in good faith and with good intention. The decision taken by the authority will be struck down if it is taken with malafide exercise of their powers. Every decision taken by any authority must be reasonable, performed with good faith and intention, and should be supported with reasons.  If the powers are exercised with oblique motive, in bad faith, or for extraneous or irrelevant considerations, there is no exercise of power known to the law, and action cannot be termed as, action in accordance with the law.[21]


The doctrine of proportionality is emerging as one of the important grounds for challenging the power of administrative discretion. Lord Diplock suggested proportionality as a possible fourth ground of judicial review.[22] Doctrine basically looks that the discretionary power is exercised according to the object of the statute proportionally. The courts while invoking the doctrine of proportionality may quash the exercise of powers in which there is not a responsible relationship between the objective which is sought to be achieved and the means used to that end.[23] This doctrine is applied so that the judiciary can itself see whether the action has advantages or disadvantages and only such action will be declared as valid which will have more advantages to it than disadvantages. The doctrine states that administrative measures must not be more drastic than is necessary for attaining the desired result.


Every authority in India is having a vast discretionary power and it is necessary for the judiciary to exercise the power of review entrusted to them by the constitution for these powers. It is the duty of the judiciary to see that the administrative authorities are exercising their discretionary powers within the rule of law and principles of Natural Justice. The foregoing study discloses that courts are finding it very difficult to strengthen the mechanism of judicial review to keep the authorities within the zone of rule of law. The study shows that excess and abuse of jurisdiction, malafide, irrelevant considerations, and arbitrary exercise of powers is considered as justified grounds for the judiciary to interfere with the discretionary powers of the authorities. The study also mentions the doctrine of proportionality and how it has become one of the most used grounds for judicial review.

The study also reveals that the courts through its cases have taken many steps to strengthen the exercise of administrative discretion. The courts have also tried to convert absolute discretion into discretion with limitations. Judiciary through its review power is trying to provide everyone with fair treatment and to keep alive the common man’s hopes with the governance of the country.

[1] Chief Constable v. Evans, (1982) AU.ER 141

[2] Chamber Kumar v. Union of India, AIR 1997 SC 1125; Chief Controller v. Evans, (1982) All.ER 141.

[3] R. K. Jain v. Union of India, (1993) 4 SCC 119.

[4] Ranjit Thakur v. Union of India, (1987) 4 SCC 611.

[5] Duda V. Shiv Shankar, (1988) 3 SCC 167.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Annual Survey of Indian Law, 1996, p. 5.

[8] Keshavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, (1973) 4 SCC 225.

[9] Minerva Mills Ltd. v. Union of India, AIR 1980 SC 1789.

[10] S. P. Gupta V. Union of India, AIR 1982 SC 149.

[11] Bharat Heavy Electrical Ltd. v. M. Chandershekhar Reddy, (2005) 2 SCC 481.

[12] Tata Cellular v. Union of India, (1994) 6 SCC 651.

[13] Council of Civil Service Unions v. Minister for the Civil Services, (1985) AC 374.

[14] B. C. Chaturvedi v. Union of India, (1995) 6 SCC 749.

[15] R v Minister of transport, ex parte Grey Coaches (1933) 77 Sol.Jo.

[16] Hazel v. Hammer smith and Fulbam, (1991) 1 All.ER 545.

[17] Additional District Magistrate (Rev.) v. Siri Ram, Appeal (civil)  6255 of 1995.

[18] Supra note 4.

[19] Associated Provincial Picture Homes Ltd. v. Wednessburg Corp., (1948) 1 KB 223.

[20] R.L.Arora v State of U.P., 1964 AIR 1230.

[21] Dhampur Sugar (Kashipur) Ltd. v. State of Uttranchal, (2007) 8 SCC 418.

[22] R V. Minister of Agriculture, (1991) 2 QB 164.

[23] R V. Bamsley Metropolitan Borough Council, (1976) 3 All.ER 452.

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