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Administrative Discretion: A Journey from Laissez-Faire to Welfare States

The later half of the 1800s, especially in the wake of England's Industrial Revolution, saw a number of revolutionary shifts in the way governments operated and were conducted. Since then, the process has continued. The classic "laissez faire" idea has been abandoned in the modern era, and the former "police state" has evolved into a "welfare state." As a result of this profound shift in the conception of the state's purpose, the state's powers have grown. In addition to its sovereign duties, it now aspires to be a progressive democratic state that provides social security and welfare for the general populace. It controls production, establishes businesses, and manages labor relations.

In summary, this concept has led to an expansion of governmental activities. Because of this, the administrative authorities now possess a great deal of discretionary power, which is typically exercised at the discretion of the administration without reference to formal regulations or requirements. The administration carries out executive tasks by enforcing laws passed by the legislature; it also enacts laws when the legislature grants it authority to do so and interprets the law through administrative tribunals. As a result, the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government essentially hold a monopoly on all the powers.

Nature of Discretionary Powers

The delegation of broad discretionary powers to the Administration for case-by-case decision-making is a notable development in contemporary democracies' administrative processes. A definite contemporary trend in today's world is the Administration's increasing acquisition of discretionary powers. Every law passed by the Legislature gives the Administration certain discretionary powers. Legislation that has been delegated also grants discretion. The growing amount of governmental control of human affairs is the primary justification for giving the government and its representatives broad discretionary powers.

The statutes and delegated legislation contain literally tens of thousands of discretionary powers. The government, a minister, an official, or an instrumentality established to carry out a state duty may all have discretionary power. It doesn't appear that there is a recognizable rule that establishes who ought to get discretion in a given circumstance. Administrative expediency might be the sole criterion used. When a minister or other high official is granted discretion, he or she must assign that authority to an official in a lower category because it is not feasible for them to make every decision on their own. Certain discretionary rights may affect a significant number of members of the community, which could have far-reaching effects.

Fundamental Rights and Administrative Discretion

As previously said, there is a clear trend in all democracies today to give authorities a great deal of discretion; laws giving the Administration authority is typically written in broad, generic language. This gives the administrator the freedom to use his authority in a way that suits his own interests. The possibility of wide abilities being abused and utilized in an arbitrary or discriminatory way makes this kind of development unsettling. In order to prevent injustice from being done to anyone, it becomes vital to design appropriate safeguards to neutralize such an eventuality.

Very little oversight is provided under the statute granting discretionary power to supervise the relevant administrator's use of that authority. As a result, the courts must be heavily involved in the process of regulating how the Administration operates. Certain Fundamental Rights protected by Articles 12 to 35 of the Indian Constitution are important in this regard.

Doctrine of Excessive Delegation of Discretion

Through the application of the notion of "excessive delegation of discretion" and the mention of specific Fundamental Rights, the courts have traditionally endeavored to regulate the delegation of legislative power on the Administration. According to the doctrine, giving the Administration unrestricted and excessive discretion is unlawful. If a law provision granting vast discretion is not supported by policy, norms, guidelines, and/or procedural protections, the courts may declare it null and void. In contrast to statutes granting discretion, the courts have generally accorded more deference to laws granting the authority of delegated legislation.

Judicial Review of Administrative Discretion

Black's Law Dicitionary defines "Judicial Review" as a "Court's power to review the actions of other branches of government, especially the courts' power to invalidate legislative and executive actions as being unconstitutional."

When used effectively, judicial review is a powerful tool for judges. It includes the authority of a court to declare any law or order based on that law or any other action taken by an official public authority that is unconstitutional and unenforceable.Judicial review's primary goal is not to guarantee that the authority makes a decision that is just in the eyes of the law, but rather to make sure that it does not abuse its powers and that people are treated fairly and justly. Enduring or at odds with the fundamental laws of the land.

Discretionary Power and Judicial Review

The administration is granted many forms of discretionary authorities. These might include basic ministerial duties like keeping track of births and deaths, or they could include authority that has a significant impact on an individual's rights, such as the acquisition of property, control over trade, industry, or business, investigation, seizure, confiscation, and destruction of property, detention of an individual based on the executive authority's subjective judgment, and so on.

It is generally acknowledged that courts lack the authority to impede administrative bodies' use of their discretionary powers. The U.S. Supreme Court noted in Small v. Moss that "courts may not enter into that field (of administrative discretion)."

The same idea is recognized in India as well, where the Supreme Court has ruled in several cases that courts lack the authority to override orders made by administrative officials exercising their discretionary powers.

That does not imply, however, that the administration's discretion is uncontrolled. As previously said, the administration has a great deal of discretionary power, and granting it total flexibility will result in the arbitrary use of that power. In addition to giving the administration discretionary powers, the courts also have a duty to ensure that these powers are not abused and that they are used appropriately, responsibly, and with the goal of serving the public good.

Every power must be used within the boundaries and bounds of the law, according to a fundamental tenet of the legal system. This fundamental principle does not exempt the use of administrative authority. The core principles of administrative law are the theories used to determine and uphold those boundaries. Where there is a rule of law, there cannot be unrestricted discretion. Once more, any authority can be abused, and the true measure of an effective judicial review system is the ability to stop misuse.

According to the conventional view, courts were responsible for regulating the existence and scope of prerogative power, but not how it was utilized. This stance has significantly changed, and courts have stressed that the subject matter-rather than the source-must determine whether discretionary power can be reviewed. Case by case variations may occur in the scope and intensity of judicial scrutiny and justifiable area.

Last but not least, the following passage from Magna Carta encapsulates the entire issue above: "We will not make justices, constables, sheriffs, or bailiffs who do not know the law of the land and mean to observe it well."

Written By: Akanksha

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