Wednesbury test

State of Orissa Vs. Bidyabhushan Mohapatra,  Bhagat Ram Vs. State of Himachal Pradesh and Others, and Rangaswami Vs. State of Tamil Nadu,  it was observed by the Apex Court that it has not been laid down that in no case, the High Court/Tribunal has the power to alter the penalty imposed by the disciplinary or appellate authority.

However, disciplinary authorities being fact-finding authorities have exclusive power to consider the evidence with a view to maintain discipline. They are invested with the discretion to impose an appropriate punishment keeping in view the magnitude and gravity of the misconduct. The High Court/Tribunal, while exercising the power of judicial review, cannot normally substitute its own conclusion on penalty and impose some other penalty. If the punishment imposed by the disciplinary authority or by the appellate authority shocks the conscience of the High Court/Tribunal, it would appropriately mould the relief, either directing the disciplinary/applicant authority to reconsider the penalty imposed, or to shorten the litigation, it may itself, in exceptional and rare cases, impose appropriate punishment with cogent reasons in support thereof.

According to Wednesbury case, while examining `reasonableness’ of an administrative decision the court has to find out if the administrator has left out relevant factors or taken into account irrelevant factors. The decision of the administrator must have been within the four corners of the law, and not one which no sensible person could have reasonably arrived at, having regard to the above principles, and must have been a bonafide one. The decision could be one of many choices open to the authority but it was for that authority to decide upon the choice and not for the court to substitute its view. In this case 50% of respondent’s pension and 50% of gratuity were withheld on proof of his misconduct. The tribunal had interfered with the quantum of punishment and had also substituted its view of the punishment.

The Apex court had set aside the punishment imposed by the tribunal and had restored the punishment awarded by the Departmental authorities. The apex court had also summarized the position of proportionality in England and in India as follows:

(1) To judge the validity of any administrative order or statutory discretion, normally the Wednesbury test is to be applied to find out if the decision was illegal or suffered from procedural improprieties or was one which no sensible decision-maker could, on the material before him and within the framework of the law, have arrived at. The court would consider whether relevant matters had not been taken into account or whether irrelevant matters had been taken into account or whether the action was not bona fide. The court would also consider whether the decision was absurd or perverse. The court would not however go into the correctness of the choice made by the administrator amongst the various alternatives open to him. Nor could the court substitute its decision to that of the administrator. This is the Wednesbury8 test

(2) The court would not interfere with the administrator’s decision unless it was illegal or suffered from procedural impropriety or was irrational – in the sense that it was in outrageous defiance of logic or moral standards. The possibility of other tests, including proportionality being brought into English administrative law in future is not ruled out. These are the CCSU9 principles.

(3)(a) As per Bugdaycay20, Brind12 and Smith19 as long as the Convention is not incorporated into English law, the English courts merely exercise a secondary judgment to find out if the decision-maker could have, on the material before him, arrived at the primary judgment in the manner he has done.

(3)(b) If the Convention is incorporated in England making available the principle of proportionality, then the English courts will render primary judgment on the validity of the administrative action and find out if the restriction is disproportionate or excessive or is not based upon a fair balancing of the fundamental freedom and the need for the restriction thereupon.

(4)(a) The position in our country, in administrative law, where no fundamental freedoms as aforesaid are involved, is that the courts/tribunals will only play a secondary role while the primary judgment as to reasonableness will remain with the executive or administrative authority. The secondary judgment of the court is to be based on Wednesbury and CCSU principles as stated by Lord Greene and Lord Diplock respectively to find if the executive or administrative authority has reasonably arrived at his decision as the primary authority.

(4)(b) Whether in the case of administrative or executive action affecting fundamental freedoms, the courts in our country will apply the principle of “proportionality” and assume a primary role, is left open, to be decided in an appropriate case where such action is alleged to offend fundamental freedoms. It will be then necessary to decide whether the courts will have a primary role only if the freedoms under Articles 19, 21 etc. are involved and not for Article 14.

The quantum of punishment in disciplinary matters is primarily for the disciplinary authority to decide and the jurisdiction of the High Court’s under Article 226 of the Constitution or of the administrative tribunals is limited and is confined to the applicability of one or other of the well-known principles known as the Wednesbury principles. It was held that the courts are confined to a secondary role and only has to see whether the administrator has acted illegally or has omitted relevant factors into consideration or whether his view is one which no reasonable person could have taken and if his action does not satisfy any of these conditions it is to be treated as arbitrary.


Categories: CIVIL