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The justice system is dynamic in nature and has therefore advanced with civilization to help the individuals to deal with ills of the society. Principles of natural justice provide them with adequate opportunity to defend themselves in a fair and reasonable ground. It is an inherent part of Administrative Law, and helps the citizens to protect him against organized power. Natural justice has no fixed definition it has been defined by various scholars, lawyers, and judges in different ways. Nevertheless, Lord Esher M.R has defined it as “the natural sense of what is right and wrong.” Natural justice is not a water-tight compartment it has various shapes, forms, and shades, it has evolved over the ages and recognized as a sign of a healthy government.
Rules of Natural Justice are rational and appeals to the basic sense of man. Natural Justice is mainly embedded in the conscience of a common man and is independent of the codified law. It is adhered by all the administrative, judicial, and quasi-judicial body with utmost importance to enforce rule of law, accountability in administrative authority and to show regard for human dignity. These principles are those rules which have been laid down by the court to protect the common man against arbitrary use of power by an administrative body.
These principles are put into operation when any individual suffers any civil consequence or prejudice against any administrative authority. In Tejashree Ghag v. Prakash P. Patil, Supreme Court observed that when an employer is transferred to a non-equivalent post resulting in loss of pay thus suffering civil consequences; natural justice is to be applied.
According to the traditional English Law the two principles of natural justice are:
i. Nemo in propria causa judex, esse debet- It is known as the rule against bias; or the rule where no one is to be made judge in his own cause.
ii. Audi alteram partem- Both the sides should be given adequate opportunity to be heard or the rule of fair hearing.
The particular form of natural justice is to be applied and to what extent it should be given in a case that must depend on the facts and circumstances of the case and the framework of statute under which action is taken. Natural Justice set higher procedural principles which are laid down by the judges, which every administrative body should take into consideration while making any decision adversely affecting any private individual.
Procedural fairness is deeply rooted in the legal system across the globe. It is believed, the earliest expression of natural justice mainly originated in ancient Rome as ‘jus naturale’ used by Roman jurists; and was later known as the ‘Common Law’ in England, ‘Due Process’ in US, ‘Dharma’ in India and ‘proportionality’ in Civil-law countries. The first statutory recognition of natural law was through Magna Carta, 1215 and it heavily influenced England to incorporate these principles in the legal system as it provided the citizens with natural rights and safety from any kind of injustice. The notion of Natural Justice evolves from religious and philosophical beliefs as indicated by the Bible. When Adam & Eve ate the fruit of knowledge which was forbidden by God; but before awarding the punishment they were given fair chance to defend themselves, this principle was also stated in Cooper v. Wandsworth Board of Works.
The concept of natural justice in ancient India sprouted from Kautilya’s Arthashastra, in addition to it is also mentioned in ‘Sanskrit Slok’, “A judge should decide cases without any consideration of personal gain or any kind of personal bias; and his decision should be in accordance with procedure prescribed by the texts” as mentioned by Brihaspati. Judicial System in Ancient India took severe precautions to maintain judicial integrity therefore, protecting the principles of natural justice.
Principles of Natural Justice in India
The expression ‘natural justice’ is not mentioned in the Indian Constitution but the concept of these rules are enshrined in the Preamble as social and economic justice; which is the idea of fairness in social and economic activities of the society which is the crux of natural justice. The Supreme Court affirmed that rules of natural justice must be read with the provision of law, and it is indispensable where the rule excludes the application of principles of natural justice.
Furthermore Article 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution mentions fair procedure; as Article 14 is attracted when there is discriminatory class legislation or State action and Article 21gurantees a citizen fair and adequate opportunity when he is deprived of life and personal liberty. Thus the rules of natural justice are firmly grounded in the Indian Constitution via these articles, and the rules of natural justice cannot be overlooked as that would be violative of the fundamental rights of the citizen. Supreme Court held in H.L. Trehan v. Union of India, that even if the authority has statutory power to take action without hearing, it would be arbitrary to take action and violative of Article 14. In addition, Article 311 of the Indian constitution contains the principles of natural justice without using the expression.
Salient features of principles of Natural Justice
The various features of principles of natural justice are:
1. Rule against Bias:
Bias is an inclination or preconceived notion which is not grounded by reason and is often actuated on self-interest. This feature guarantees that the judge must be impartial and should only decide a case based on the facts and evidence brought before the court.
Psychology states human beings can rarely take decision against their interests, hence the maxim; nemo in propria causa judex, esse debet states that no one could be made judge in their own cause. Supreme Court in the case, Crawford Bayley & Co. v. Union of India; clearly stated that this doctrine comes into effect if the officer concerned has personal connection, personal interest or personally acted in the matter concerned which he may be interested in supporting. Various kinds of biases are:
- Personal Bias: This kind of bias arises due to an existing relationship between the authority and the parties which incline him unfavorably or otherwise while taking decision. In D.K. Khanna v. Union of India; High Court quashed the selection of the candidate where his son-in-law was a member of the selection committee. Likewise, in S.P. Kapoor v. State of H.P., Supreme Court rescinded the selection list prepared by the Department of Promotion which had considered the confidential reports of candidates prepared by an officer who himself was a candidate.
However, personal bias is further divide into ‘reasonable suspicion of biases or ‘real likelihood of bias’ which means court’s own evaluation of the possibilities and the latter means, the outward appearance of a bias.
- Pecuniary Bias: While reaching a decision if the authority benefits financially, then it would vitiate the administrative decision. In J. Mohapatra, Supreme Court annulled the decision of the Textbooks’ Selection Committee as some members were also the authors of the books. Similarly, in Dimes v. G. J Canal, House of Lords quashed the decision of Lord Chancellor who gave the decision in favor of the plaintiff company on grounds, as he was a shareholder of that company. This rule is not avoided in the non-participation of the biased member in the proceedings but he was present when the decision was reached.
- Subject-Matter Bias: It falls under the category when the administrative authority is directly or otherwise linked to the subject-matter of the case. In G. Nageswara Rao v. A.P. SRTC, Supreme Court nullified the decision of the Andhra Pradesh government on nationalizing road transport as the Secretary of Transport Department was interested in the subject-matter while giving the hearing. Although unless there is a real likelihood of bias it would not over-ride the administrative decision based on mere involvement.
- Departmental or Institutional Bias: Supreme Court held that the process of initiation and decision is discharged by two separate officers although they work in the same department there is no bias.
- Preconceived Notion Bias: This type of bias is exercised when the individual already has a preconceived notion against the parties. It is hardly detected, unless excess exercise of authority.
2. Audi Alteram Partem:
This Latin maxim means, “let the other side be heard”, which means both the sides in a case should be given fair and adequate opportunity to defend oneself. Any person can be wrongfully convicted unless given a reasonable opportunity to prove his innocence, therefore to remove this ineffectiveness and to improve the administrative efficiency this rule of natural justice is applied as the sine qua non of civilized society. In the infamous Dr. Bentley Case, the Court of King’s Bench held that the University of Cambridge could not cancel the degree of great but rebellious student without giving him an opportunity to defend himself.
- Right to Notice: The word notice is derived from the Latin word, “notoria” this means to be informed. From the legal viewpoint it means to provide the party with adequate information of the case which is to be met. Denial of this right annuls the administrative decision. It is the starting point of any hearing because unless a person is notified about the facts of the case he cannot defend himself. In Joseph Vilangandan v. Executive Engineer, the court held the contents of the notice provided was inadequate.
A notice must contain time and place of the hearing, legal authority under which the case will be heard and specific charges which have been brought up. If due to prejudice notice is not issued then the proceedings will be nullified; but the proceedings will not be vitiated due to irregular services.
- Right to Present Case and Evidence: After the issuance of notice one should be given reasonable time to prepare and present the case and evidences; Supreme Court overruled the decision of the administrative bodies in Dhakeshwari Cotton Mills Ltd. on the grounds of not being allowed to provide sufficient materials; this is violative of the principle of natural justice.
- Right to Cross Examination: Cross Examination is defined in Section 137, of Indian Evidence Act which is an essential component of fair hearing. But this right is often denied in exceptional circumstances.
3. Reasoned Decision
The importance of ‘reason’ in the legal system is to connect the dots between facts and decision; it helps in establishing precedents to the system therefore it adds more certainty. Reasons provided must be clear, cogent and succinct. This feature works on two principles; firstly, if lower body has given adequate reasons and higher body is affirming that decision then it is not necessary to provide anymore reasons but if the higher body is altering lower body’s decision then reasons must be provided. Secondly, if the higher body is affirming lower body’s decision who has not given adequate reasons then the latter must provide with it.
In the case, Eurasian equipment and chemicals limited vs. State of West Bengal, all the executive engineers were blacklisted. Supreme Court held that without giving a valid and reasonable ground the administrative body cannot blacklist anyone on blanket orders; further the individual who has been show caused should be given a fair opportunity to be heard.
4. Concept of Post Decisional Hearing
Post-decisional hearing has been developed to maintain a balance between administrative efficiency and fairness. It arises under some exceptional circumstances as in; Maneka Gandhi case the court held that impounding passport without any notice or hearing does attract the principles of natural justice but with the assurance of the government that the appellant will be provided with post decisional hearing; the court declined to interfere with the impoundment order. Thus, the decision is not void but can be verified with post decisional hearing. On the contrary in K.I. Shepherd v. Union of India; Supreme Court did not allow post decisional hearing and held that the principles of natural justice are to be applied.
We have understood so far, that natural justice is an essential component of the justice system. It not only provides fair and reasonable opportunity to an individual to defend himself but also is an effective tool to protect all the citizens against evils of the administrative system. The basic utility of this principle are:
- To establish the concept of fairness and equity.
- To fill all the gaps, and loopholes of the legal system.
- To protect the Fundamental Right and basic human dignity of the individuals.
- To prevent abuse of power by the authorities in charge.
It is the duty of all administrative, judicial, and quasi-judicial bodies to ensure reasonable and justifiable judgment; which can be guaranteed by proper application of this principle. Even supposing the rules of natural justice are essential for fair hearing, reasonableness and equity there are certain exceptions to this principle:
- Exception in emergency: In cases where the elaborate process of fair-hearing will jeopardize the process the rules of natural justice are excluded, as in the case, Babulal Parate v. State of Maharashtra, when there is an imminent danger to peace principles of natural justice were shelved. Nonetheless, courts may review the urgency of the situation.
- Exclusion due to confidentiality: In certain exceptional cases where the principles of natural justice will bring in ineffectiveness in justice then the requirement in those rules are obviated; as Supreme Court held in Malak Singh v. State of P. &H., maintenance of surveillance register is a confidential document and the rules of natural justice may defeat the very purpose of surveillance.
- Exception in case of legislative action: legislative action whether plenary or subordinate is not subjected to natural justice as these refer to public policy without reference to a certain individual. In Laxmi Khandsari v. State of U.P., Supreme Court held that notification of the Uttar Pradesh Government Sugarcane (Control) Order, 1966 directing that no power crushing unit in a reserved area of a mill will work from a period of 9th October to 1st December, 1980 is of legislative nature and does not affect the principles of natural justice.
- Exceptions where no right of the person is infringed: Principles of natural justice are not applied where no fundamental right of the person is infringed.
- Exception during contractual agreement: Termination of agreement is neither quasi-judicial nor administrative hence principles of natural justice cannot be attracted.
- Exception due to government policy decision: Principles of natural justice are excluded in exercise of executive policy matters as it is impractical to provide proper hearing to all the individuals whenever an executive decision is taken in light of public interest.
Effects of breach of Natural Justice
Courts have had varied decision regarding the effect of the breach of the principles of natural justice. H.W.R. Wade in Administrative Law, has stated that, ‘the act, in violation of the principles of natural justice or a quasi-judicial act in violation of the principles of natural justice, is void or of no value.’ In A.R. Antulay v. R.S. Nayak Supreme Court held violation of any principle of natural would render the order void. In Nawabkhan the Supreme Court held that the externment order which prosecuted and convicted the appellant was in violation of audi alteram partem and therefore, the order has no effect and its violation is not an offence. Correspondingly, in Anisminic Ltd. v. Foreign Compensation Commission, the House of Lords held that breach of natural justice nullifies the order.
On the other hand, in the Maneka Gandhi case although there was infringement of natural justice but with the provision of post-decisional hearing the court refused to turn down the order. Similarly, in Swadeshi Cotton Mills; the court held violation of these principles does result in nullity of the order, but with the assurance of Solicitor General that post decisional hearing would be provided, it was abstained from being struck down.
This article was assisted with relevant case laws to signify the importance of natural justice in the administrative, judicial, and quasi-judicial systems all over the world. The main objectives of these principles are to prevent miscarriage of justice, and to protect the individual from abuse of power by the administrative agencies. Violations to these principles would result in the proceedings to be void as the rules of natural justice are held as the fundamental feature of every legal system. Henceforth, it is necessary to adopt these rules of natural justice in the administrative and judicial systems as they deal with the idea of reasonableness and protect the ends of justice against the discretionary powers and acts of these bodies.
Author: Abanti Bose from Amity Law School, Kolkata.
Editor: Akshat Mehta from Institute of Law, Nirma University.