Vol 20 No 2 (2020)
Democracy, Rights, Normative Systems

Legality on the Frontlines of Administrative Decision-Making

Matjia Žgur
Università di Roma Tre
Published December 22, 2020
  • public administration,
  • administrative circulars,
  • principle of legality,
  • frontline official,
  • sources of law,
  • psychodeontics
  • ...More


In this essay, the author deals with the decision-making practices of frontline administrative officials. In particular, he examines how administrative circulars become the primary source of these officials’ decision-making norms, even when their content may be in contrast with hierarchically superior sources of law. The disposition of frontline officials to resort primarily to internal orders of hierarchically superior officials is explained as a consequence of the joint influence of several organizational principles upon their mental faculties. After introducing the problem and its relevance for legal theory, the author first defends the methodological approach to which he subscribes. Thereafter, he presents the central categories and organizational principles framing the institutional operations of public administrations. Finally, he provides a psychologically-informed explanation of the influence exerted by these principles upon the mental faculties of frontline officials which underpin the latter’s preference for the use of administrative circulars as primary sources of decision-making norms.