November 27, 2021


administrative law

The doctrine-ultra-vires is the basic structure of administrative law. It is considered as the foundation of judicial review to control actions of the administration. Ultra-vires refers to the action which is made in an excessive manner or outside the ambit of the acting party.

Generally, the grounds for judicial review of administrative action in India are as follows-


“A general principle which has remained unchanged is that discretionary power conferred on an administrative authority is required to be exercised reasonably.”

This is also known as the Wednesbury Test. In the case of Associated Provincial Pictures Houe vs Wednesbury Irrationality as a ground of judicial review of administrative action was developed. The court held that the person to whom a discretion is been vested must excersie it with reasonable case and only on reasonable grounds. Any interference by the court would not be permissible unless and until that the decision was illegal or had defects with regard to the procedural improprieties.

Further in the case of Roberts vs Hopwood the court was faced with the question of adopting a policy of paying higher wages than what the national average. The court found it unreasonable on the grounds that the council was made was bound was law.

In another landmark case of R vs Broadmoor special hospital authority Ex Parte the court held that the hospitals and other medical research organisation have the power to conduct random and routine searches on its patients without there consent.

In the Indian Case of Neha Jain vs University of Delhi the court formulated few check points for judicial review

Some of them where:

  • If the decision made is mala fide or made beyond the jurisdiction or discriminatory
  • If it is found unreasonable or is in violation of the constitution
  • If it is legally not supported or is beyond one jurisdiction

Procedural Impropriety

The concept of procedural impropriety can be understood as the procedural failure to follow . In other words, it means failure to follow rules and regulation and other is the failure to observe the basic law of the natural justice. It is a ground of judicial review of administrative action.

In the case of Bradbury vs Enfield London Borough Council, the council breached the basic need of public policy. The council request to procedural requirement was not accepted by the courts.

Further in the case of Ridge vs Baldwin the court focus on the procedural fairness had to be followed. The court also held that following the principle of natural justice has to be followed at all cost.

In the case of the Aylesbury Mushroom Case the court held that it is the fundamental requirement that in cases a person interest are effected by any functions of Judicial and administrative functions then in that case the person has the right to be heard and make representations. the natural justice principle has to be followed


The Concept of the Proportionality can be understood as the administrative action should match the desired result. These means that the tries to balance means to end. It has to be reasonableness and it has to be seen that the courts see that the course of action has to be followed.

In the case of Sardar Singh vs Union of India, the court said the action taken by the army was arbitrary and the punishment was severe. The doctrine helps the court to the find out the possible discretionary power which can be done by the executive.

In the Management K Tea Estates vs Mazdoor Singh held that that the SC has in all circumstances that doctrine will be put to test against the administrative actions.


The concept of Illegality can be understood as when a body acts beyond the power to which it is vests with.

A decision of a public body may be illegal if the decision maker:

acts outside or beyond its powers, also known as ‘ultra vires’ is directs itself in law – for example the decision maker does not understand and apply the law correctly exercises a power wrongly or for an improper purpose – a decision must be reached on the basis of the facts of the matter in question. It is a ground of judicial review of administrative action.

In the Case of R (RWE Npower Renewables Ltd) v Milton Keynes Council the court held that one formulation of the test is that an irrational or unreasonable decision must be “so outrageous in its defiance of logic or accepted moral standards that no sensible person who had applied his mind to the question to be decided could have arrived at it”.

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Author Details: Shubhang Gomasta (LLM student, MATS University, Raipur, Chhattisgarh).


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