June 5, 2023
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Principle of Natural Justice and its Applicability in Law

Principle of Natural Justice

Shad Khan, a 2nd-Year, School of Law, DAVV Indore Student has written this article “PRINCIPLE OF NATURAL JUSTICE AND ITS APPLICABILITY IN LAW“.

What is the Principle of Natural Justice?

Natural justice is a concept that refers to the basic principles of the legal system and is used to describe a fair play in reality. According to Lord Widgery, “the principles of natural justice were those fundamental rules, the breach of which will prevent justice from being seen to be done.” It has been variously defined by different judges as “universal justice”[1], “Requirement of substantial justice”[2], and Fair play in action[3]. Every administrative action that has civil repercussions against a state citizen must have a justification. Fairness or fair play should be recognized as fundamental principles of effective administration to prevent abuse or misuse of the power granted to the modern state. The adjudicatory process essentially has to be inconsonance of Natural Justice. [4]

Concept of Natural Justice

The principles of natural justice may not always be explicitly stated in a statute or in rules derived from it. Instead, they may be inferred from the obligation to comply with legislative requirements. The specific natural justice rule to be applied and the context in which it should be implemented is heavily influenced by the facts and circumstances of each case. Furthermore, even administrative orders that have civil consequences must comply with natural justice principles. The term “civil consequence” encompasses not only the infringement of property or personal rights but also the violation of civil liberties, material deprivation, and non-monetary losses, among other aspects of an individual’s life that have a significant impact. Therefore, natural justice’s broad umbrella extends to every aspect of a citizen’s life.

Principles Of Natural Justice

The norms outlined by the court as the minimal safeguards for people’s rights against the arbitrary practices that may be used by judicial, quasi-judicial, and administrative power when making an order impacting those rights are known as the principles of natural justice. These regulations are intended to prevent such authorities from acting unfairly. The following two rules have been developed :

  • “Nemo judex in causa sua ” means ‘ no man shall be a judge in his own case.
  • “Audi alteram partem” means ‘ no man shall be condemned unheard.
  • Purpose of Natural Justice- Justice should not only be done but should manifestly be seen to be done. Whenever an order is struck down as invalid being in violation of principles of natural justice there is no final decision on the case and fresh proceedings are left.

Purpose of the principle

• To provide equal opportunity of being heard.

• Concept of Fairness

•To fulfill the gaps and loopholes of the law.

•To protect Fundamental Rights.

•The Basic features of the Constitution.

•Prevent miscarriage of Justice.

Rules Of Natural Justice

Doctrine of Bias

Impartiality, fairness, and freedom from bias are critical components of the judicial process, especially when an administrative authority acts in a quasi-judicial capacity. The Supreme Court has emphasized that no tribunal can judge its own cause. As well as any person who adjudicates over the rights of others must be free from any form of bias and possess an objective and impartial mindset toward the issue and dispute at hand.

Bias is usually of three types:

Pecuniary Bias

The simplest kind of bias is when the judge is proven to have a personal stake in the case. Hence in such a case, it will be held immediately that he is disqualified, regardless of how tiny the value may be and how obvious it may be that his thinking could be affected. So, even a minor interest will prevent someone from serving as a judge.

Personal Bias

Personal Bias is defined as –

  • Where the presiding officer has reached a conclusion before the proceeding has been fully heard.
  • When he has a stake in one of the parties, either directly as a participant or indirectly. He might have a personal or professional grudge against one of the case’s parties or be friendly with them. He might also be related to them. Every circumstance results in bias, either in favor of or against the party. It disqualifies a person from serving as a judge.
Bias as to subject matter –

A judge may be biased in a case if he is personally involved in the litigation as a party or otherwise. If has a direct link to it, creating a conflict of interest. When a judge has a legal interest, bias must be considered to be at play. The judge is ineligible even if there is a minute legal interest.

Audi Alteram Partem  

The principle of Audi alteram partem states that no one should be sentenced without a proper hearing. But nevertheless, the applicability of this principle extends beyond strictly legal proceedings to include all quasi-judicial functions and, to a certain extent, administrative actions. Rules of natural justice require that a party should have the opportunity of adducing all relevant evidence on which he relies, that the evidence of the opponent should be taken in his presence, and that he should be given the opportunity of cross-examining the witness, examined by the party and that no material should be relied on against him without his being given an opportunity of examining them.[5] Gujarat High Court in D.S.Rana V/S Ahmedabad municipal corporation[6] observed that Audi alteram partem rule has received a wide range of applications in administrative discretion.

The following two incidents of Audi alteration partum rule are :

Notice  

Prior to the beginning of the proceeding, notice must be given to the party or parties. According to the notice requirement, the party whose civil rights are at concern must have had reasonable notice. Any action conducted without prior notification would be against the natural justice principle.[7] In the case of the Board of technical education U.P. vs Dhanwan Kumar[8], it was held that the justification stated in the notice for the proposed action must be explicit, clear, and specific. There has been a violation of the right to a fair hearing when the grounds stated in the notice are general, imprecise, uncertain, and vague.

The notice must be given a reasonable opportunity to comply with its requirement. Where one day’s time is given to show cause against the proposed action to a person who is out of station such action would amount to a denial of Justice.[9]

Hearing

The requirement of a hearing is a crucial component of administrative and quasi-judicial proceedings under Indian law. Any administrative order made by the authority without a justifiable chance to be heard is invalid. Henceforth, it has to be overturned. There are two components to the necessity for an opportunity of hearing. Firstly, the opportunity must be presented, yet it must also be sufficient and reasonable. Secondly, the adjudicating authority is required to grant the party the right to produce all of the evidence. It was decided in the case of B.A. Kabir vs. Principal.[10]In order to provide the adjudicating body with a reasonable opportunity,

  • The individual must submit all pertinent papers.
  • All information, evidence, or other materials that the authority intends to utilize against the subject in making a decision should be disclosed.
  • The individual in question should be given the chance to rebut any such information or materials.
  • It should provide the impacted party a thorough opportunity to question the witness brought forward against him in cross-examination.
Oral hearing

India, like the USA and UK, is hesitant to recognize the right of oral hearing as part of Audi alteram partem. However certain statutory provisions like the Public service (inquiries) act and rule 55 of civil services (Classification Control and Appeal) rules provide exceptions.

It is generally assumed that the concept of hearing also includes the maxim “one who decides must hear”. If a hearing is conducted by someone else it would be essentially a violation of the right to hearing.

Exception To Audi Alteram Partem

The principles of natural justice cannot override the effect of statutory provisions- the statute may either expressly or impliedly exclude the operation of one or the other principle of natural justice. Following are the grounds on which the right to be heard may be excluded wholly or partly-

  1. Where the functions of authority are policy-oriented.
  2. Where the functions of the agency concerned are held to be administrative or discretionary like admission, deportation, and naturalization of aliens.
  3. Where an obligation to give notice and opportunity to be heard would obstruct the taking of prompt action especially action of a preventive remedial nature.
  4. Where disclosure of relevant information to the party affected would be prejudicial to the public interest.
  5. Where the power exercised is disciplinary.

Reasoned decision or Speaking Order

A sound judicial review is not possible without the use of reason. Giving reasons is one of the pillars of good administration; it has been argued that the right to know the reasons behind a decision, separate from the decision itself, is an element of the natural justice principle.[11] Yet, this duty to provide justification is a rather novel idea in administrative law. As it is now the case that quasi-judicial authorities are not required to provide justification for their decisions. In other instances, the court has also insisted on issuing speaking orders. In recent years, these bodies have shifted towards giving reasons for their decisions.In the case of Orissa High court[12], it was observed that without reason, it is not possible to know whether there was an application of minds.

Consequences of violation of Natural Justice

When an authority that must uphold natural justice in a decision fails to do so, the decision should be viewed as void or voidable. A voidable order is considered legitimate when it is issued and will remain so until it is overturned or quashed by the court. On the other hand, a void order is a nullity and void from the beginning; it does not even exist. According to prof. Wade, any order violating natural justice is void. However, Kelson was in view of making the order ineffective accordingly. The Privy Council upheld the view in a case.[13]

Furthermore, while English judicial opinion supports the decision of Griffith and the Street case to hold the order void. In India, the position is even more clear-cut, with a well-established principle that an order passed in violation of the principles of natural justice is void.[14]

Exception to Natural Justice  

Certain exceptional circumstances in which Natural Justice is excluded. Such exceptional circumstances are as follows:-

Statutory Exclusion  

While the principles of natural justice serve to supplement the law and not replace it, they may be excluded by statutory provisions that are considered mandatory, and the authority is obliged to comply with them. Nevertheless, the principles of natural justice are not inherently incapable of being excluded. When a statute explicitly or implicitly excludes the application of these principles, the courts cannot disregard the legislature or the statutory authority’s mandate.

In cases of urgency or emergency, where prompt and preventive action is necessary, pre-decisional hearings may be excluded. In the case of Ex-Army Men’s Protection Service Pvt. Ltd. v. Union of India, the Supreme Court clarified that the term “immediate” in Section 18AA of the Industries Act does not imply that the rules of natural justice can be disregarded. Nevertheless, administrative authorities’ determination of the situation that requires the exclusion of these rules is not final and is subject to review by the court. In situations of national security, no party can demand strict adherence to the principle of natural justice.

The legislative function, which involves making rules and regulations, is not subject to natural justice. Administrative law states that there is no right to be heard before making legislation unless it is provided by statute.

Public interest

In cases where public safety, health, or morality are at risk, immediate action may be required, and notice and hearing obligations may be waived. For instance, when demolishing a property to extinguish a fire or disposing of unwholesome food. The Supreme Court has emphasized that in cases where numerous people are involved in illegal and irregular activities that have adverse effects on the biological environment and reserved forests in crucial areas of public interest, a hearing opportunity may not be necessary.[15]

  1. Rules of Natural Justice are not attracted in case of Interim Disciplinary Action.
  2. Impracticability – However, the court recognizes that it may be impractical to provide each individual with an opportunity to be heard when an authority interacts with a large number of people, and therefore, it does not insist on the fulfillment of the rule of natural justice in such cases.

Conclusion

In contemporary times, the significance of natural justice has significantly escalated. This is primarily because the administration has gained immense power to influence private rights, and the absence of adequate substantive safeguards may lead to the violation of individuals’ interests. It’s crucial to ensure that the bureaucracy follows a due process to protect people’s rights. The objective of these regulations is to establish justice and prevent any miscarriage of justice. These rules also offer the minimum protection required to safeguard the rights of individuals against any arbitrary procedures that may be adopted by judicial or quasi-judicial authorities while issuing orders affecting these rights.

Justice Bhagwati laid down that:

“Natural justice is a great humanizing principle intended to invest law with fairness and secure justice and over the years it has grown into a widely pervasive rule, affecting large areas of administrative action. The inquiry must always be: does fairness in action demand that an opportunity to be heard should be given to the person affected? “

The universal and absolute law is that NATURAL JUSTICE which cannot be written down, but which appeals to the hearts of all.

:- Victor Cousin

For a detailed article on Tribal Rights and Justice: Click here


[1] Lord Carnworthy in Drew Vs. Drew ,1985

[2] James dumer case ,1877

[3] Favored by justice bhagwat in Maneka Gandhi case AIR 1978 SC 597

[4] Manohar Manikrao Anchal Vs. State of Maharashtra and Ors. AIR 2013 SC 681

[5] Venkatraman Aiyar J. in Union Of India v. T.R.Verma, AIR 1957 SC 882

[6] AIR 2000 Guj.45

[7] Prem bus service vs. R.T.A , AIR 1961 SC 344

[8] AIR 1991 SC 271

[9] Public prosecutor vs. K.P.Chandrasekharan, (1959) 8 STC 6

[10] AIR 1967 Ker 121

[11] P.B.Mukherji : Administrative Law, JILI Vol. 1,1958-59, pp. 39,64

[12] Manab ku. Mitra vs. state of Orissa & ors., AIR 1997 Ori 52

[13] Durayappah v. Fernado, 1967 2 A.C. 337

[14] State of U.P. Vs. Mohd. Nooh AIR 1958 SC 86

[15] Samaj parivartana Samudaya vs. State of Karnataka AIR 2012 SC 2327

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