Can Judicial Review Be Justified?

It is often witnessed that those who are less acquainted with the law are busy castigating the judiciary for interference in the affairs of executive bodies and various state institutions. This piece of writing is aimed to clarify and explain the legitimacy and legality of intervention by the courts, which is often considered by a layperson to be illegal or against judicial norms.

The main function of the judiciary is generally understood to be the dispensation of justice and provision of remedy to aggrieved persons, but people are faced with a dilemma when they see the honourable courts interfering in the affairs of state institutions. I am merely making an attempt to point out how and through which principle are the courts empowered to do so.

This well known principle in the field of law is known as judicial review and is a process through which courts ensure the legality of acts performed by public bodies. The purpose of judicial review of administrative action is to ensure that public authorities do not abuse or go beyond the powers assigned to them by Parliament. Court are empowered to conduct judicial review in the following situations arising within the affairs of a public body:

  • when state institutions or state agencies perform an act which is ultra vires to the Constitution (i.e. goes beyond the powers assigned to them);
  • when the said institutions perform an act which goes beyond the limits prescribed in the enabling Act (an Act through which an institution is made); or
  • when the nature of the act is against public interest.

Keeping in view the above circumstances, courts do not willingly try to meddle in such affairs unless the public bodies in question act in a way which is unreasonable or irrational, or if the courts witness the agencies/institutions going beyond the limits prescribed above or being unable to do what is required or incumbent upon them.

By improperly carrying out their assigned business, executive bodies tend to create hurdles for the judicial system which already has a high pendency of cases. The said acts of executive bodies further add to the pile of pending issues.

When our institutions are not well equipped to set aside their issues and resolve matters on their own, people turn towards the courts which they see as more credible compared to other institutions such as tribunals created by the bodies themselves to resolve issues.

If these institutions and public bodies are able to perform their assigned functions properly, there will be no reason for the courts to intervene and we will not have to observe so many pending cases all the way from the trial courts to the Supreme Court.

Pragmatic measures should be taken at a macro level to strengthen our public bodies/institutions through fresh legislative processes and make them capable enough to have result-oriented policies regarding their functions. This is the only way to avert further burden on the courts.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of or any other organization with which he might be associated.

Meer Khan

Author: Meer Khan

The writer is a practising lawyer and member of the Balochistan Bar Council.