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An administrative court is a type of court specializing in administrative law, particularly disputes concerning the exercise of public power. Their role is to ascertain that official acts are consistent with the law. Such courts are considered separate from general courts.
The administrative acts are recognized from the hallmark that they become binding without the consent of the other involved parties. The contracts between authorities and private persons fall usually to the jurisdiction of the general court system. Official decisions contested in administrative courts include:
- dispensation of monetary benefits
- environmental licenses
- building inspection
- child custody
- involuntary commitment
- immigration decisions
- summary public payments (other than fines imposed by general courts)
In several countries, in addition to general courts, there is a separate system of administrative courts, where the general and administrative systems do not have jurisdiction over each other. Accordingly, there is a local administrative court of first instance, possibly an appeals court and a Supreme Administrative Court separate from the general Supreme Court.
The parallel system is found in countries like Egypt, Greece, Germany, France, Italy, some of the Nordic Countries, Portugal, Taiwan and others. In France, Greece, Portugal and Sweden, the system has three levels like the general system, with local courts, appeals courts and a Supreme Administrative Court. In Finland, Italy, Poland and Taiwan, the system has two levels, where the court of first instance is a regional court. In Germany, the system is more complicated, and courts are more specialized.
In Finland, legality of decisions of both state agencies and municipal authorities can be appealed to the administrative courts. In accordance with the principle of the legal autonomy of municipalities, administrative courts can only review and rule on the formal legality of the decision, not its content. In the case of state agencies, administrative courts may rule on the actual content of the decision.
In the United States, administrative courts are tribunals within administrative agencies, and are distinct from judicial courts. Decisions of administrative courts can be appealed to a judicial court.
Notably, in 1952, the Communist East German government abolished the administrative courts as "bourgeois". This limited the citizens' ability to contest official decisions. In 1989, re-establishment of the system began in DDR, but the German reunification made this initiative obsolete.