Difference Between Administrative Law and Constitutional Law

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : Mar 17, 2022, 8:23

Both constitutional and administrative law, concerned with the functions of the government, are components of public law in the modern nation-state. However, there is a difference between administrative law and constitutional law. Administrative law, to be more specific, is an addition to the supreme law of the land, the constitutional law.

Definition Administrative Law

The establishment and administration of government entities are governed by administrative law. It defines the authorities of administrative agencies, the substantive regulations they create, and the legal relationships that bind them to other government organizations and the general public.

Definition Constitutional Law

Constitutional law deals with the powers, rights, and liberties established by a legally passed constitution or a charter. It comprises the powers of the several branches of the government and the rights of the people.

Difference between Administrative Law and Constitutional Law

In his seminal work, Ill-Assorted Musings about Regulatory Takings and Constitutional Law, Maurice J Holland emphasizes that the main difference between constitutional law and administrative law is that constitutional law governs the legislative and executive branches, but administrative law governs their operations.

In his magnum opus, The British Constitution, Ivor Jennings believes that administrative law is concerned with the organization, functions, powers, and responsibilities of administrative authorities. On the other hand, he opines that constitutional law is concerned with the broad principles; guiding the structure and powers of the various state organs and their relationship with the citizens.

Another difference between constitutional law and administrative law is that in countries with a written constitution, constitutional law is derived from the constitution. However, administrative law is derived from legislation, administrative regulations, executive decrees, circulars, letters of instruction, conventions, etc.

Constitutional Law

Administrative Law

The ultimate law of any nation-state is constitutional law.

Administrative law is ancillary to the ultimate law.

Deals with the organs of the State and its structure

Deals with the actual functioning of the organs of the State.

It has a wide scope and deals with the powers of the State, general principles of governance, and the relationship between the citizens and the State.

It has a narrow scope and only deals with the powers and functioning of the administrative bodies.

It is codified into a single text in countries with a written constitution.

It is not codified. There might be hundreds of thousands of administrative laws.

Constitutional law establishes an administrative body

Administrative law defines its legal roles and limitations. Therefore, it can be seen as the action arm of constitutional law.

According to Prof. S P Sathe, administrative law is a subset of constitutional law, and all administrative law concerns are constitutional law issues. As a result, constitutional law has a broad scope, with a plethora of administrative laws accounting for a sizable component of it. This is the difference between administrative law and constitutional law.

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FAQs on Difference Between Administrative Law and Constitutional Law

Q.1. Why is it difficult to entirely differentiate between administrative law and constitutional law in a country like India?

In India, constitutional laws, directly or indirectly, limit the powers of administrative entities. It scrutinizes administrative acts. Therefore, it becomes difficult to completely separate administrative law from constitutional law in a society with a codified constitution and judicial review.

Q.2. Does administrative law and constitutional law belong to different watertight compartments?

No. Some scholars have pointed out that there exists a zone of overlapping between constitutional law and administrative law. Here, constitutional law deals with the operation part- organization, functions, powers, and responsibilities of administrative authorities. Examples: Articles 32, 136, 227, 262, 263, 267, 280, and 311 of the Constitution of India.

Q.3. From where does administrative law derive its authority?

Administrative law is derived from different sources in different countries. The sources of administrative law in the United States are statutes, common law, executive orders, etc.

In England, the sources of administrative law are statutes, precedent, subordinate legislation, etc.

However, in India, constitutional law is the most important source of administrative law, among others like executive orders, delegated legislation, ordinances, judicial pronouncements, etc.

Q.4. What is the relationship between administrative law and judicial review?

In some ways, judicial review of administrative action is central to administrative law. It decides whether the administrative laws are congruent with constitutional law.

Therefore, judicial review is part of the basic structure of the Constitution of India.

However, some are concerned that excessive judicial scrutiny will weaken the administrative law and jeopardize the constitutional principle of separation of powers.