Administrative law

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Administrative law is a relatively technical area distinct from practice in general courts. In criminal court, the proceedings are based on statutes, driven by a prosecution supported by police. In civil court, the proceedings follow rules of civil procedure, which judges monitoring the propriety of interaction between individual or corporate participants. Administrative law, however, deals with interactions, sometimes interagency both most likely individual or corporation to agency, with the regulations of administrative agencies that have been delegated to act as agents of the Executive, either at state or Federal levels.

This must be emphasized: administrative hearings are executive, not judicial. Under many circumstances, a decision may be appealed into the judicial system, but one can regard the practice of administrative law as a form of alternative dispute resolution. In the ideal, it will decide matters that often involve highly technical expertise, rather than the expert witness process of courts. Depending on the specific area of regulation, the official directing the hearing may be called an administrative law judge, and the hearing may be relatively more or like a judicial proceeding, but it is arguably an alternative to classic judicial channels.

Often, administrative regulations are not so much strictly an adversarial proceeding between plaintiff or defendant, but an effort to clarify the regulations of agency established to protect a public interest. At the U.S federal levels, the principles of the process are in the Federal Administrative Procedure Act (FAPA); many states have parallel legislation.

Administrative law includes not only the adjudication of compliance with regulation, but the process of having regulations proposed by agency staff, public comments heard, and the agency executive choose a final language of regulation — or sometimes decide not to issue a regulation.

Federal Administrative Procedure Act

"The FAPA is a remedial statute designed to ensure uniformity and openness in the procedures used by federal agencies. The Act is comprised of a comprehensive regulatory scheme governing regulations, adjudications, and rule making in general terms. The FAPA is the major source for federal administrative agency law, while state agencies' administration and regulation are governed by comparable state acts."[1]


The principles of administrative law can govern hearings, by immigration officials, on whether to admit or deport an alien to a country. When the determination on admission or extradition of an alien in another country, it is an example of how a procedure can involve extrajudicial detention and even extraordinary rendition, but be a public process, simply one not involving the classic judiciary. Of course either of these areas can involve completely secret processes with little procedural oversight.

Applications in military-related law

For relatively minor offenses, many militaries give their members choices between court-martial and administrative punishment, the latter really a hearing process rather than necessarily one that assigns punishment. The general process involves having a matter heard by an officer in the chain of command, but not usually the direct supervisor. In the naval tradition of captain's mast, divisional or departmental officers might bring an individual to the ship's commanding officer for adjudicating a problem. The captain's decision is usually final, but sometimes it can be reviewed by a higher-ranking officer, or the matter can move into the military courts.

Captain's Mast is a traditional term, and it can also serve as a venue for recognizing excellent performance. Sometimes, that part is separated into Meritorious Mast, but a good ship often makes it visible that acts can be punished or rewarded.

Things become much more blurred when specialized military tribunals are convened, such as the Combatant Status Review Tribunals or Administrative Review Boards at Guantanamo Bay detention camp. The Geneva Conventions do recognize the concept of a "competent tribunal" possibly outside the forma court system, but, in these particular matters, there have been increasing restrictions, as in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld and in the Military Commissions Act of 2006, about the extent to which tribunals rather than civil or even formal military courts can be used.


  1. Administrative law & administrative agencies: an overview, Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School