The Meaning, Scope, Definition and Significance of Administrative Law

Administrative law

Administrative law is the by-product of expanding socio-economic functions of the State and increased powers of the government. It has become immensely important in developed societies since the relationship of individuals with the authorities has also become complex.

It is that branch of public law that dictates how governmental agencies ad offices are to work both at central and state level. It is mostly judge made law that provides the guidelines for public administration and ensuring public welfare. It includes the rule-making power of administrative bodies wherein higher legislative offices delegate their powers to ensure better administration and implementation of rules and regulations, quasi-judicial function of administrative agencies, legal liabilities of public authorities and ensures that the executive wing of the democracy treats the public fairly.


 Administrative law is that law which deals with the relationship between a country’s citizens with the government. It determines the organizational and power structure of the administration and quasi-judicial bodies to enforce the rule of law. Administrative law is primarily concerned with governmental and administrative actions and process and puts in a control mechanism to prevent administrative agencies from spiraling out of control.  It is not codified law and rather has developed over time. It ensures that the authorities don’t misuse or abuse the powers vested in them.


Several jurists and scholars have defines administrative law to reveal the scope and various dimensions of this branch of law.

Austin has defined administrative law as one which determines the ends and modes to which the sovereign power shall be exercised. According to him sovereign power should be either exercised directly by the monarch or entrusted to subordinate political agents holding a position of trust.[i]

Holland regards Administrative law as “one of the six divisions of public law”[ii] while Bernard Schawartz has defined it to be the law applicable to those administrative agencies which possess adjudicatory authority of a delegated legislation.[iii]

Ivor Jennings defined Administrative law a “the law relating to administration”. It determines the organization, powers and duties of administrative authorities.[iv]

AV Dicey in the 19th Century provided an expansive and explanatory definition of Administrative law.  He defined it to have the following elements:[v]

  • Portion of a nation’s legal system which determines the legal status and liabilities of all State officials
  • The rights and liabilities of private individuals vis-à-vis their business with public officials
  • Specifies the procedure by which rights and liabilities are enforced

However, over the years this definition has been found to be problematic. It is lacking in the sense that it’s concerned only with the singular aspect of judicial control of public officials. Dicey’s definition fails to account for several other administrative authorities such as public corporations which are beyond the definition of State officials. 

Friedman, on the other hand, provides an inclusive definition. In his words Administrative law is the law concerning the powers and procedures of administrative, especially the law governing judicial review of administrative action.[vi] It includes:

  • Administrative powers of administration
  • Legislative powers of the administration at both common law and under various statutes
  • Judicial and quasi-judicial powers
  • Legal liability of public authorities
  • Powers of ordinary courts to supervise administrative authorities


Administrative law is known to be in existence since the inception of administration itself. With the growth of the society, its complexity increased, thereby posing new problems with respect of administration. In the ancient society the functions of the State were few and numbered with the most prominent ones being protection of the country against foreign powers, levying of taxes maintenance of peace and order. The law is a concomitant of administration at any given period and has been growing and developing ever since.

The ruling gospel of 19th century was the Laissez faire system which manifested in individualism, individual enterprise and self-help. The State was characterized by minimum government; it was an era of free enterprise. However soon it was realized that the bargaining power was not equal and uncontrolled contractual freedom lead to the exploitation of the weak. State’s interference was recognized as essential for emancipation of the down trodden. Therefore, state intervention was favored and there was regulation on individual enterprise.

In India administrative law can be traced back to the Mauryans and Guptas, several centuries before Christ followed by the Mughal administration, the British and Empire and finally the modern day administrative law. Rather the administration under the British provided the foundation for modern day administrative law. In the modern Era with responsibilities of the State manifold, modern State is regarded the custodian of social welfare. The growth in range of responsibilities has ushered in an era of Administrative law.     


Administrative law determines the organization, powers and duties of administrative authorities. The emphasis of Administrative law is on the procedural aspect of formal adjudication. Its concept founded on the following:

  • Principles of natural justice
  • Rule of law
  • Power is conferred on the administration by law
  • No power is absolute or uncontrolled howsoever broad the nature of the same might be
  • There should be reasonable restrictions on exercise of such powers depending on the solution.

Since its judge made law and evolves over time, there is room for modification. While the basic principles remain the same, the scope is wide enough to incorporate and cull out new rules and regulations, to suit the requirement of time.


The development of Administrative law is an unavoidable necessity of the modern times. Prior to 1947, India was a police state, primarily interested in strengthening its own domination. Administrative machinery was mainly implemented with the object of civil service in view. This soon came to be recognized as the ‘steel frame of Indian polity’. Post independence there was a change in the philosophy of Indian Constitution. It laid down lofty goals of socio-economic equality, with public welfare being primary concern. It is an important weapon for bringing harmony between power and justice. The Constitution governs administrators.

Administration is an all pervading feature of our lives. The ambit of administration is wide embraces several functions:

  • Policy making
  • Leadership to legislature
  • Execution and administration of regulations of the land
  • Administering both traditional and contemporary functions of the State
  • Exercising legislative powers by way of a range of bye-laws, orders, decrees, orders, etc.

Continuous experimentation and adjustment of detail has become essential requisite of modern administration. If a rule is found to be unsuitable in practice, a new rule incorporating the requisite changes is put in place, without much delay. This flexibility is what widens administrative law and makes it significant in our lives. Administrative laws not only puts law into effect but does much more than that.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. When was administrative law created?

There is no fixed point of inception of administrative law. It has existed since the time administration evolved. Both administration and administrative law has evolved simultaneously keeping in mind the need of polity.

2. Who makes administrative law?

It is mostly judge made laws; however, there are several instances when legislation comes in. The higher legislative authority delegates it powers to a lower office for law-making and effective implementation of laws.

3. Who appoints impartial administrative law judges?

In India the process of appointing judges is the same irrespective of which area they deal in or specialization they have.

4. What is the significance of administrative law and ethics?

The basic foundation of administrative law is based on the principle of natural law and rule of law. It is an extremely flexible branch of law, by virtue of which there is any law that is against ethics and basic principles, it’s immediately done away with.

5. What remedies are available to persons adversely affected by administration?

Any aggrieved can take a legal recourse and approach the court in case his rights and interests are affected at the hands of the administration. In case there is a higher level of administration than the one causing trouble to any person, he/she can approach the higher officials for getting his problem redressed.

Edited by Shikhar Shrivastava

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje 


[i] W Ivor Jennings, Administrative Law and Administrative Jurisdiction, Journal of Comparative Legislation and International Law 20 , 1 (1938)

[ii] Aberman Yohannes and Desta Micheal, Introduction to Administrative Law , Abyssian Law (July 28, 11:11 am)

[iii]Aberman Yohannes and Desta Micheal, Introduction to Administrative Law , Abyssian Law (July 28, 11:11 am)

[iv] W Ivor Jennings, Administrative Law and Administrative Jurisdiction, Journal of Comparative Legislation and International Law 20 , 1 (1938)

[v] Vivek Ranjan, Rule of Law and Modern Administrative Law, SSRN (2010),   

[vi] Vivek Ranjan, Rule of Law and Modern Administrative Law, SSRN (2010),   

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