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Contours And Implications Of Quasi-Judicial Actions

Among the three organs of State, the legislature makes law; the executive ensures its enforcement; and the judiciary interprets the law so as to apply it to a given situation. Judiciary also ensures that exercise of power by State or its instrumentalities, do not breach the statutory and constitutional limits.

In a welfare State, in view of wider role assumed by State, the executive is required to discharge functions which have trappings of a judicial act- called quasi-judicial actions.

Identifying Quasi-Judicial Acts

A question arises as to what are the circumstances when an executive act would be treated as exercise of quasi-judicial.

In Province of Bombay v. Khushaldas S. Advani & Ors.[1] decided by learned 6-Judge Bench of Supreme Court, Justice S.R. Das in his concurring opinion outlined following principles to identify quasi-judicial act:

80.1 that if a statute empowers an authority, not being a court in the ordinary sense, to decide disputes arising out of a claim made by one party under the statute which claim is opposed by another party and to determine the respective rights of the contesting parties who are opposed to each other, there is a lis and prima facie and in the absence of anything in the statute to the contrary it is the duty of the authority to act judicially and the decision of the authority is a quasi-judicial act; and

80.2 that if a statutory authority has power to do any act which will prejudicially affect the subject, then, although there are not two parties apart from the authority and the contest is between the authority proposing to do the act and the subject opposing it, the final determination of the authority will yet be a quasi-judicial act provided the authority is required by the statute to act judicially."

A 5-Judge Bench of Supreme Court in Radeshyam Khare & anr. v. States of M.P. & Ors.[2], speaking through Justice S.R. Das, held:

11. � celebrated definition of a quasi-judicial � insists on three requisites each of which must be fulfilled in order that the act of the body may be said to be quasi-judicial act, namely, that the body of persons:
  1. must have legal authority,
  2. to determine questions affecting the rights of parties, and
  3. must have the duty to act judicially.
Since a writ of certiorari can be issued only to correct the errors of a court or a quasi-judicial body, it would follow that the real and determining test for ascertaining whether an act authorised by a statute is a quasi-judicial act or an administrative act is whether the statute has expressly or impliedly imposed upon the statutory body the duty to act judicially as required by the third condition in the definition given by Atkin LJ�

In Gullapalli Nageswara Rao & Ors. V. A.P. State Road Transport Corporation & anr[3], decided by another 5-Judges of Supreme Court, Justice K. Subbarao, speaking for the majority, held as under:

21. The aforesaid three decisions lay down that whether an Administrative Tribunal has a duty to act judicially should be gathered from the provisions of the particular statute and the rules made thereunder, and they clearly express the view that if an authority is called upon to decide respective rights of contesting parties or, to put it in other words, if there is a lis, ordinarily there will be a duty on the part of the said authority to act judicially.

Yet another 5-Judge Bench of Supreme Court in Board of High School and Intermediate Education, U.P. Allahabad v. Gnahshyam Das Gupta & Ors.[4], speaking through Justice K.N. Wanchoo, noting that the principles summarized by Justice S.R. Das in Province of Bombay v. Khushaldas S. Advani & Ors., has been followed in later cases, stated:

8. � . Now it may be mentioned that the statute is not likely to provide in so many words that the authority passing the order is required to act judicially; that can only be inferred from the express provisions of the statute in the first instance in each case and no one circumstance alone will be determinative of the question whether the authority set up by the statute has the duty to act judicially or not.

The inference whether the authority acting under a statute where it is silent has the duty to act judicially will depend on the express provisions of the statute read along with the nature of the right affected, the manner of the disposal provided, the objective criterion if any to be adopted, the effect of the decision on the person affected and other indicia afforded by the statute. A duty to act judicially may arise in widely different circumstances which it will be impossible and indeed inadvisable to attempt to define exhaustively : (vide observations of Parker, J., in R. v. Manchester Legal Aid Committee [1952 2 QB 418] .

In Jaswant Sugar Mills Ltd., v. Lakshmi Chand[5], the following criteria was noted to make a decision or an act, judicial:
  • It is in substance a determination upon investigation of a question by the application objective standards to facts found in the light of pre-existing legal rules;
  • It declares rights or imposes upon parties obligations affecting their civil rights; and
  • That the investigation is subject to certain procedural attributes contemplating an opportunity of presenting its case to a party, ascertainment of facts by means of evidence if a dispute be on questions of fact, and if the dispute be on a question of law on the presentation of legal argument, and a decision resulting in the disposal of the matter on findings based upon those questions of law and fact.

One more 5-Judge Bench in A.K. Kraipak & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors.[6] considered the distinction between administrative power and a quasi-judicial power and held:
13. The dividing line between an administrative power and a quasi-judicial power is quite thin and is being gradually obliterat[7]ed. For determining whether a power is an administrative power or a quasi-judicial power one has to look to the nature of the power conferred, the person or persons on whom it is conferred, the framework of the law conferring that power, the consequences ensuing from the exercise of that power and the manner in which that power is expected to be exercised. �.

The concept of rule of law would lose its vitality if the instrumentalities of the State are not charged with the duty of discharging their functions in a fair and just manner. The requirement of acting judicially in essence is nothing but a requirement to act justly and fairly and not arbitrarily or capriciously.

The procedures which are considered inherent in the exercise of a judicial power are merely those which facilitate if not ensure a just and fair decision. In recent years the concept of quasi-judicial power has been undergoing a radical change. What was considered as an administrative power some years back is now being considered as a quasi-judicial power.

Recently, Supreme Court in Orissa Administrative Tribunal Bar Association v. Union of India & Ors., having adverted to precedents, noted following principles of distinction between quasi-judicial and administrative acts while emphasizing that the distinction between the two is not always well defined and its application may not always be certain:

59. From the above decisions, it emerges that:
  1. The decision of an authority is prima facie, and in the absence of any other factor, a quasi-judicial act when there is a lis before it, with two parties with competing claims;
  2. When the authority has the power to do something which will prejudicially affect the subject, the decision it takes is a quasi-judicial act even in the absence of a lis and two parties with competing claims, when the authority is required by the statute in question to act judicially. The express provisions of the statute, the nature of the right affected, the manner of disposal, the objective criterion (if any) to be adopted while deciding one way or the other, the effect of the decision, and other signs in the statute may be considered when evaluating whether there is a duty to act judicially; and
  3. The decision of an authority is quasi-judicial when it is made in accordance with rules. The decision is administrative when it is dictated by policy and expediency.

Implications of Quasi-Judicial Functioning

Having understood what constitutes quasi-judicial acts, a question arises as to the consequence flowing from an action being a quasi-judicial. Some are elaborated below:
  1. An authority exercising quasi-judicial power is required to adhere to principles of natural justice including: (i) No one shall be a judge in his own case; (ii) No decision shall be given against a party without affording him a reasonable hearing; (iii) the quasi-judicial enquiries must be held in good faith, without bias and not arbitrarily or unreasonably[8]; (iv) An administrative authority, exercising judicial or a quasi-judicial power, must record reasons for its decision[9]. Even if particular statute or rules made thereunder do not provide for hearing or an opportunity, before the decision affecting the rights of a party is taken, the requirement of adherence to principles of natural justice would be read into[10].
  2. Personal hearing enables the authority concerned to watch the demeanor of the witness and clear up his doubts during the course of arguments and the party appearing to persuade the authority by reasoned argument to accept his point of view. In a quasi-judicial proceedings the person hearing the arguments must decicide. If one persons hears and another decides, then personal hearing becomes an empty formality[11].
  3. Power to view a decision not being inherent, quasi-judicial authority cannot review its decision unless the statute provides for the same expressly / specifically or by necessary implication[12].
  4. Sec.21 of the General Clauses Act, 1897 allows Executive having power to issue notifications, orders, rules or byelaws under any law, the authority to add to, amend, vary any such notifications, orders, rules or byelaws so issue. However, said Sec.21 of General Clauses Act cannot be pressed into service to vary, amend or review a quasi-judicial order, or notification. A quasi judiail order or notification cannot be rescinded by relying upon Sec.21[13].
  5. A quasi-judicial order made under the provisions of a statute does not require authentication under Article 166 of Constitution[14].
  6. A writ of certiorari lies to control statutory body which acts without jurisdiction or in its excess or in violation of principles of natural justice or commits an error apparent on the face of records, provided that the body is a quasi-judicial body entrusted with quasi-judicial function. Certiorari may not lie to correct the errors of a statutory body which is entrusted with purely administrative functions[15].

Summing up:
It is critical for an authority exercising quasi-judicial function to identify its contours and implications including adherence to principles of natural justice, so as to avoid challenge to and interference with its decision.

  • 1950 SCR 621
  • 1959 SCR 1440
  • 1959 Supp (1) SCR 319
  • 1962 Supp 3 SCR 36
  • 1963 Supp (1) SCR 242
  • (1969) 2 SCC 262
  • 2023 SCC OnLine SC 309
  • Manohar v. State of Maharashtra & another (2012) 13 SCC 14
  • NHAI v. Madhukar Kumar, (2022) 14 SCC 661
  • Udit Narain Singh Malpaharia v. Board of Revenue 1963 Supp 1 SCR 676
  • Gullapalli Nageswara Rao & Ors. V. A.P. State Road Transport Corporation & anr. 1959 Supp (1) SCR 319 and Sayaji Hotels Ltd. v. Indore Municipal Corpn., 2020 SCC OnLine MP 4175
  • Naresh Kumar & Others v. Government (NCT of Delhi) (2019) 9 SCC 416
  • Indian National Congress (I) v. Institute of Social Welfare (2002) 5 SCC 685
  • State of Maharashtra v. Basantilal, (2003) 10 SCC 620
  • Radeshyam Khare & anr. v. States of M.P. & Ors. 1959 SCR 1440

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