Administrative Law- Judicial Review and the Judiciary

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July 03, 2019

Judicial Review or Judicial Control constitutes as an elementary topic in the administrative law regime. In today’s era, the Judiciary plays an essential role in moulding the society and nation on the basis of guidelines and norms formulated by it. Hence, the Judiciary has emerged as one of the concrete branches of the Government.

Origin of Judicial Review

Researchers and Commentators have conferred the major responsibility of creation of the power of Judicial Review on John Marshall, one of the most powerful Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Marshall’s decision in Marbury v. Madison[1] was supposed to have created the practice of Judicial Review[2]. However, it was eminent Historian Edward Corwin who rendered a concrete explanation of the term “Judicial Review” as the power and duty of the Courts to disallow all legislature or Executive acts of either Central or the State Government.

Supreme Court’s Recent Decision on Judicial Review

In a recent case, namely, Sarvepalli Ramaiah (Died) as per LRS & Others v. The District Collector, Chittoor District and Ors., Justice R. Bhanumathi in her concurring judgment made some essential observations pertaining to the principles and practice of Judicial Review.

  1. That Administrative decisions are subject to judicial review under Article 226 of the Constitution, only on grounds of perversity, patent illegality, irrationality, want of power to take the decision and procedural irregularity. Except on these grounds administrative decisions are not interfered with, in exercise of the extra ordinary power of judicial review.
  2. A decision may sometimes be set aside and quashed under Article 226 on the ground of illegality. This is when there is an apparent error of law on the face of the decision, which goes to the root of the decision and/or in other words an apparent error, but for which the decision would have been otherwise.
  3. Judicial review under Article 226 is directed, not against the decision, but the decision making process. Of course, a patent illegality and/or error apparent on the face of the decision, which goes to the root of the decision, may vitiate the decision making process. In this case there is no such patent illegality or apparent error. In exercise of power under Article 226, the Court does not sit in appeal over the decision impugned, nor does it adjudicate hotly disputed questions of fact.

Judicial Review of Disciplinary Proceedings

In a recent case of 2018, the High Court of Delhi in the case of Mahendra Singh v. Delhi Power Supply Co. Ltd.[3] was confronted with the issue of judicial review of disciplinary proceedings and opined that the judicial review of disciplinary proceedings, against an allegedly errant employee or workman, and of the decision to punish him involves the examination of the issues.

Other cases which has elucidated on judicial review of disciplinary proceedings or administrative action are enumerated below:

Gohil Vishvaraj Hanubhai vs State of Gujarat[4] In this case, the Supreme Court referred to two judgments which are frequently quoted in reference to judicial review of administrative action:

Council of Civil Service Unions v. Minister for the Civil Service[5]– In this case, Lord Diplock summarised the principles as follows “Judicial review has I think developed to a stage today when without reiterating any analysis of the steps by which the development has come about, one can conveniently classify under three heads the grounds upon which administrative action is subject to control by judicial review.

The first ground I would call “illegality”, the second “irrationality” and the third “procedural impropriety”. That is not to say that further development on a case-by-case basis may not in course of time add further grounds. I have in mind particularly the possible adoption in the future of the principle of “proportionality” which is recognised in the administrative law of several of our fellow members of the European Economic Community; but to dispose of the instant case the three already well established heads that I have mentioned will suffice.

He declared that the head “irrationality” is synonymous with “Wednesbury unreasonableness” (Associated Provincial Picture Houses Ltd. v. Wednesbury Corpn.)[6]

The principle laid down in Council of Civil Service Unions case, has been quoted with approval by this Court in Tata Cellular v. Union of India, and Siemens Public Communication Networks (P) Ltd. v. Union of India.

The Court in the case also observed that normally while exercising the power of judicial review, the courts would only examine the decision-making process of the administrative authorities but not the decision itself.


[1] (5 U.S(1 Cranch)137(1803)

[2] The Origins of Judicial Review, or How the Marshall Court made more out of Less, Washington and lee Law Review (Volume 56/Issue 3, Gordon S. Word)

[3] W.P. (C) 5835/2002 decided on June 11, 2018

[4] (2017) 13 SCC 621

[5] 1985 AC 374

[6] (1948) 1 KB 223 (CA)