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Understanding the Concept of Judicial Review: An In-depth Overview

The democratic universe encapsulates a constellation of principles. Checks and balances, civil liberties, separation of powers, and rule of law are just a few of the stars twirling around in this galaxy. Among those celestial constellations, there's one crucial cornerstone known as 'Judicial Review.' This concept not only corroborates the democratic foundation but also strengthens the judiciary's ethos by bestowing it with the authority to examine the legislature's and the executive's operations. Let's dive deeper into an exhaustively expansive overview of judicial review.


Origin of Judicial Review


The unwritten dawn of judicial review dates back to the early 17th century during England’s parliamentary upheavals, explicitly under the reign of Sir Edward Coke, who fervently asserted the court’s authority to overrule unlawful mandates. The fledgling design of judicial review solidified on American soil with the landmark case 'Marbury v. Madison’ in 1803. Now, the doctrine of judicial review holds significant regulatory weight in democratic jurisdictions worldwide.


What is Judicial Review?


In essence, judicial review is the power endowed upon the judiciary to scrutinize the constitutionality of legislative and executive acts. This doctrine permits courts, especially the apex ones like the Supreme Court of the United States or the High Court in India, to review and possibly nullify laws and decisions that they deem inconsistent with the constitution. This remit ranges from examining government statutes, presidential directives, administrative regulations to state codes, and more.

Forgoing the challenging legal jargon, judicial review operates on a paradoxically simple principle – that 'no act is above the constitution.' The purpose of judicial review is not to undermine the power of other branches of the government but to safeguard the constitution's sanctity and ensure adherence to its provisions.


Types of Judicial Review


Based on constitutional dynamics, legal landscapes, and administrative requisites, judicial review manifests in various typologies across different jurisdictions:


  1. Constitutional Review: Mostly prevalent in countries with written constitutions, this review establishes the judiciary's supremacy to adjudicate constitutional discrepancies.

  2. Administrative Review: This review caters to the examination and rectification of administrative decisions breaching legal protocols.

  3. Legislative Review: Here, the judiciary scrutinizes the legality of legislation and voids it if found violating constitutional principles.

  4. Review based on 'Procedural Ultra Vires': Judiciary, in this case, verifies whether the correct procedures are followed when laws or regulations are enacted.

  5. Review based on 'Substantive Ultra Vires': This checks whether the laws or regulations are constitutionally sound in their content /substance.



The Implication and Impact of Judicial Review


Judicial review is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it serves as a bulwark against constitutional violations and authoritative control. The judiciary can counteract potential legislative or executive overreaches by invalidating their actions that infringe on constitutional provisions. It not only underpins the legitimacy and supremacy of the constitution but also safeguards the citizens' fundamental rights.

On the other hand, critics lament that judicial review can sway towards judicial activism, where courts may impose policies reflecting their interpretations or views over legislative or executive decisions. Balancing between upholding constitutional sanctity and respecting legislative and executive discretion is a delicate act that the courts must master.

Regardless, the principle of judicial review is the lifeblood of modern constitutional democracies. It empowers the judiciary to act as the ultimate interpreter of the constitution, facilitate fair play of powers, and promote the rule of law.


The concept of judicial review surely is a cornerstone of democratic governance. A constitutional democracy can operate effectively only when its powers are not only separated but also restrained. Judicial review provides this restraint and conduces a robust democratic establishment by ensuring justice, equality, and liberty --- the very tenets that make us democratic.

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