Principle of Natural Justice: Rule Against Bias

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The word justice is incapable of defining itself completely. Different people have different ways of perceiving justice. In general terms, justice would mean the quality of being just and fair. Principles of natural justice constitute the basic elements of a fair hearing. It is an expression of English Common law which finds its origin from the Roman phrase ‘Jus natural’ which means the law of nature. In the legal sphere, the expression is used to determine justice, fairness, and equality in the proceedings.  Principles of natural justice are just not codified but have also been adopted by the courts to protect the rights of the people against any arbitrary action of any judicial or quasi-judicial authority. Over the years, the concept of natural justice has grown tremendously affecting large areas of administrative justice. The principle of natural justice guarantees that justice is met out to all and that justice should not be jeopardized for personal gains.

Origin and concept of Principles of Natural Justice

Natural justice can be traced back to the Roman and Greek empires. Principles of natural justice are believed to have originated from Rome, but the principles are not new to India. The concept of procedural fairness and equality are embedded in India’s cultural heritage.  Principles of fair hearing and rule against bias were well observed in ancient India. When there was no codified law, justice was done based on conscience. According to the Bible, no sentence was passed for eating the fruit of knowledge before providing them with a chance to defend themselves.  The idea of natural justice is embedded in our cultural heritage. The Indian concept of Dharma is akin to the idea of natural justice. It has also been mentioned in Kautilya’s Arthashastra. The Indian emperor Ashoka also laid down the rules to determine the nature of justice.

Principles of natural justice are one of the fundamentals of administrative law. Initially, the idea of natural justice was limited to judicial proceedings. With the emerging idea of the welfare state, the powers of administrative authorities have increased and a result of the same, it has become complicated to determine a fair procedure that each authority should follow while adjudicating any quasi-judicial proceedings.  With authority comes power, which requires effective control. To prevent the abuse of power and miscarriage of justice, the principles of natural justice have evolved as safeguards against injustice.

With the changing trends and developing economies, the concept of Natural Justice has undergone great transformations. Principles of natural justice do not have a straight-jacket formula but depend on the facts of the case, the governing statutes etc. In Union of India v. Tulsiram Patel (AIR 1985 SC 1416), the Apex Court held that ‘the essence of natural justice is good conscience in a given situation, nothing more or nothing less’.

Two pillars of Principle of Natural Justice

Though the principles of natural justice have not been codified, the Apex Court has held the principle to be legally valid in various cases. The principles of natural justice are based on the following two maxims.

  • Audi alteram partem
  • Nemo judex in causa sua

The principles lay down the standards that are to be adhered to in the process of decision making. They ensure that every individual is provided with the opportunity of being heard. Moreover, they ensure that the decision is being made by an independent judge.

Audi alteram partem, also known as the hearing rule. It states that no one should be condemned unheard. In any situation or circumstance where an individual’s right or liberty is being affected, he should be provided with the opportunity of being heard.  The two essentials of this rule are notice and hearing. It is important to note that serving notice is not a mere technical formality but should be sufficient and provide all the important information.

Secondly, both the parties must have an equal opportunity of being heard. A fair hearing constitutes the right to know the evidence whether oral or documentary, the charges imposed, an opportunity to present the defence and the right to cross-examine the witnesses.

Doctrine of Bias

Nemo judex in causa sua, also known as the rule against bias means that nobody should be a judge in his cause.  This principle has been established to ensure that the judiciary is impartial and free from bias. According to Clarence Thomas, ‘the duty of the judge is to figure out what the law says, not what he wants to say.’ Human nature involves emotion, and where there lays any interest, it is very difficult to decide on one’s interest which leads to partiality and destroys the very idea of justice. A person can apply his mind effectively when he follows the path of impartiality.

Types of Bias

Personal Bias

 Any relationship arising between the adjudicating authority and the parties can lead to personal bias. The Adjudicating authority might be a friend, relative or might have any professional relations. Any personal relation might give rise to enmity against one party and favouritism to the other party.

In Meenglass Tea Estate v. Workmen (AIR 1963 SC 1719), the inquiry conducted by a manager was considered to vitiate as he acted as a judge in his case. In this case, the manager was accused of beating the workman, and the inquiry for the said allegation was conducted by the Manager himself, which is against the principles of Natural Justice.

Pecuniary Bias

When the adjudicating authority has any monetary or financial interest in the dispute, pecuniary bias arises. Any kind of pecuniary interest in the dispute will invalidate the proceedings and disqualify the person acting as a judge.

In Jeejeebhoy v Collector (AIR 1965 SC 1096), the bench was reconstituted when it was found that one of the members of the bench had a pecuniary interest where he was a member of the Cooperative society, for which the land was being acquired.

In Dimes v. Grant Junction Canal ((1852) 3 HCL 579), the House of the Lords held that Lord Chancellor failed to mention his interests in the Respondent’s Company and that was sufficient to invalidate the decision given by Lord Chancellor on the ground of pecuniary bias.

Subject matter Bias

Subject matter simply means the issue in question. This type of situation arises where the adjudicating authority is directly or indirectly has any interest in the subject matter of the dispute.

In Gullampally Nageswara Rao v. A.P.S.R.T.C. (AIR 1959 SC 308), the Apex Court held the decision of upholding the scheme of nationalisation of motor transport by the Government Secretary to be invalid, due to his interest in the subject matter, as he was the one who had initiated the process of nationalization.

Test for apparent bias

It is not necessarily what manifestly appears wrong is wrong. The Courts have developed two tests to conclude whether the interest of the adjudicating authority in a matter is sufficient to amounts to apparent bias. The two tests are the ‘real likelihood test’ and the ‘reasonable suspicion test’.

The first test looks for a probability rather than a possibility of bias. In R V. Inner West London Coroner ex. P. Dallagio ((1994) 4 AER 139, 162)), Lord Bingham says that despite the appearance of bias, the court can examine all the relevant materials and satisfy itself that there was no danger of the alleged bias having caused injustice, and the decision will be allowed to stand.

The second test focuses on the possibility of bias. This was discovered from the prominent dictum in R v Sussex Justices ((1924) 1 KB 259),by Lord Hewart CJ that Justice should not only be done but manifestly be seen to be done. This test focused on a desire to ensure the faith of the public in the administration of Justice.

Salient features of Nemo judex in causa usa

Everybody is burdened with prejudice; against the poor or rich, the smart or the slow. It is natural to develop prejudices.  It is noble to rise above them.

The most essential feature of this principle is impartiality. This principle questions every action of the authority which appears to be tainted. The notion behind this principle is human psychology that a man cannot decide a case against his interest.  This principle helps in establishing public confidence in the legal system and establishes the grounds for a fair and just trial. It prevents arbitrariness and partiality. This principle is based on the notion that justice should not only be done but seen to be done. Bias must be shown to be present. The adjudicating authority must be in a position to act judiciously and decide objectively.

As held in G Sarana V university of Lucknow and Ors. (1976 AIR 2428), if there exists any actual bias, it acts as sufficient ground to quash any inquiry. Moreover, anybody who has a personal interest should be distant from the inquiry. If any person is aware of the bias and does not raise that issue, he creates estoppels against himself, and will not be allowed to take any action after the decision has been taken. Lastly, there should be reasonable grounds for believing that bias could have taken place.

Critical analysis

Bias being the underlining rule of the said principle is hard to establish. Being a mental condition, it becomes difficult to prove whether the decision taken was biased or not. It may arise unconsciously. Bias may be defined as a preconceived notion concerning a party or issue. No judge’s mind is a piece of blank paper. Every person has some preoccupied notions and reasoning. While considering the rule of bias, it has to be observed that nothing has to be done which creates even a slight suspicion that there has been an inappropriate interference with the course of justice.

The object of this principle is not merely that the scales are held evenly, it is also necessary that they may not appear to be inclined. In Mahabharata, if Dhritrashtra would have been impartial and would have corrected his sons instead of saving them, while they kept on making mistakes, Pandavas would have not called for war, to ensure justice.

Conclusion

Principles of Natural Justice have occupied a crucial role in the study of Administrative law. They constitute the essence of Justice.  The Doctrine stands as a synonym of fairness in the concept of justice. The rule against bias and the hearing rule constitute the two pillars of natural justice.  The principles of natural justice not only secure justice but more importantly prevents miscarriage of Justice. The application of the principles might differ, but justice should be administered in its true spirit.

The objective of the doctrine of bias is to ensure public confidence in the administration of law. The court has to consider whether a prudent person having considered all the facts would reasonably apprehend that the judge would not act partially. The essence of the rule lies in providing a decision that is free from bias. Any biased decision creates insecurity amongst the people, and in a democratic country governed by the Rule of law, adherence to the principles of natural justice is fundamental. If the content of the law is not supplemented by the rules of natural justice, justice will be forgotten. It is justice that keeps awake when all are asleep.

Author: Gazal Ghai from Amity University, Noida.

Editor: Harinie.S from Symbiosis Law School Hyderabad.

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