• Natural Justice in simple terms means the minimum standards or principles which the administrative authorities should follow in deciding matters which have the civil consequences.
  • There are mainly two Principles of Natural Justice which every administrative authority should follow whether or not these are specifically provided in the relevant Acts or rules. Principles are:
    1. No one should be the judge in his/her own case – (Nemo Judex In Causa Sua).
    2. Each party should be given the opportunity to be heard – (Audi Alteram Partem).

Natural Justice

  • Natural Justice implies fairness, reasonableness, equity and equality. Natural Justice is a concept of Common Law and it is the Common Law world counterpart of the American concept of ‘procedural due process’.
  • Natural Justice represents higher procedural principles developed by judges which every administrative agency must follow in taking any decision adversely affecting the rights of a private individual.
  • Natural Justice meant many things to many writers, lawyers and systems of law. It is used interchangeably with Divine Law, Jus Gentium and the Common Law of the Nations. It is a concept of changing content. However, this does not mean that at a given time no fixed principles of Natural Justice can be indentified.
  • The principles of Natural Justice through various decisions of courts can be easily ascertained, though their application in a given situation may depend on multifarious factors. In a Welfare State like India, the role and jurisdiction of administrative agencies is increasing at a rapid pace. The concept of Rule of Law would loose its validity if the instrumentalities of the State are not charged with the duty of discharging these functions in a fair and just manner.
  • The principles of natural justice are firmly grounded under various Article of the Constitution. With the introduction of the concept of substantive and procedural due process in Article – 21 of the Constitution all that fairness which is included in the principles of natural justice can be read into Article – 21 when a person is deprived of his life and personal liberty.
  • In other areas it is Article – 14 which incorporates the principles of natural justice. Article – 14 applies not only to discriminatory class legislation on but also to arbitrary or discriminatory State action. Because violation of natural justice results in arbitrariness therefore violation of natural justice is violation of Equality Clause of Article – 14.
  • Therefore, now the principle of natural justice cannot be wholly disregarded by law because this would violate the fundamental rights guaranteed by Articles – 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
  • There are mainly two Principles of Natural Justice. These two Principles are:
    • ‘Nemo judex in causa sua’. No one should be made a judge in his own cause and the rule against bias.
    • Audi alteram partem’ means to hear the other party or no one should be condemned unheard.

Principles of Natural Justice

Principles of Natural Justice

Rule Against Bias (or Nemo Judex in Causa Sua)

  • ‘Bias’ means an operative prejudice whether conscious or unconscious in relation to a party or issue. Therefore, the ‘Rule Against Bias’ strikes against those factors which may improperly influence a judge in arriving at a deci-sion in any particular case.
  • The requirement of this principle is that the judge must be impartial and must decide the case objectively on the basis of the evidence on record. Therefore if a person, for whatever reason, cannot take an objective decision on the basis of evidence on record he shall be said to be biased. A person cannot take an objective decision in a case in which he/she has an interest for, as human psychology tells us, very rarely can people take decisions against their own interests.
  • This rule of disqualification is applied not only to avoid the possibility of a partial decision but also to ensure public confidence in the impartiality of the administrative adjudicatory process because not only must “no man be judge in his/her own cause” but also “justice should not only be done but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done”.
  • Minimal requirement of natural justice is that the authority must be composed of impartial persons acting fairly and without prejudice and bias.
  • A decision which is a result of bias is a nullity and the trial is “Coram non-judice” (before a non-judge).
  • Inference of bias, therefore, can be drawn only on the basis of factual matrix and not merely on the basis of insinuations, conjectures and surmises.

Type of Bias:

  • Personal Bias
    • Personal bias originates from a relation between a deciding authority and the party. This can place the deciding administration in a questionable situation to undertake an unfair act and deliver judgement in his person’s favour.
  • Pecuniary Bias
    • In case there is any kind of financial interest on the judicial body’s part, notwithstanding the amount, it will lead to biases for the administrative authority.
  • Subject Matter Bias
    • This bias is applicable when the deciding administration falls under the subject matter of a specific case, directly or indirectly.
  • Policy Notion Bias
    • Issues emerging from preconceived policy notions is a very dedicated problem. The mob in a courtroom does not anticipate judges to deliver a fair judgement and trial with a clean sheet of paper.
  • Other Bias are:
    • Preconceived Notion Bias
    • Departmental Bias or Institutional Bias
    • Bias on account of the Obstinacy

Rule of Fair Hearing (Audi Alteram Partem)

  • The “Rule of Fair Hearing” is a fundamental principle that ensures justice and due process in administrative proceedings. It emphasizes that a person must be given an opportunity to be heard and defend themselves. This principle is a ‘sine qua non’ of every civilized society.
    • Corollary deduced from this rule is – “qui aliquid statuerit, parte inaudita altera aeuquum licet dixerit, haud aequum facerit” (he who shall decide anything without the other side having been heard although he may have said what is right will not have done what is right).
  • The same principle was expressed by Lord Hewart when he said, “ It is not merely of some importance, but is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seem to be done’’.
    • Administrative difficulty in giving notice and hearing to a person cannot provide any justification for depriving the person of opportunity of being heard. Furthermore, observance of the rules of natural justice has no relevance to the fatness of the stake but is essentially related to the demands of a given situation.
    • Even if the legislature specifically authorizes an administrative action without hearing, except in cases of recognised exceptions, then the law would be violative of the principles of fair hearing as per Articles – 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution.
      • However, refusal to participate in enquiry without valid reason cannot be pleaded as violation of natural justice at a later stage.

Reasoned Decisions or Speaking Orders

  • The third principle of Natural Justice which has developed in course of time is that the order which is passed affecting the rights of an individual must be a “speaking order“.
  • This is necessary with a view to exclude the possibility of arbitrariness in the action. A bald order requiring no reason to support it may be passed in an arbitrary and irresponsible manner. It is a step in furtherance of achieving the end where society is governed by Rule of Law.
  • The other aspect of the matter is that the party, against whom an order is passed, in fair play, must know the reasons of passing such order. It has a right to know the reasons. The orders against which appeals are provided must be speaking orders.
    • Otherwise, the aggrieved party will not be in a position to demonstrate before the appellate authority as to in which manner, the order passed by the initial authorities is bad or suffers from illegality. To a very great extent, in such matters bald orders render the remedy of appeal nugatory.
  • However, it is true that administrative authorities or Tribunals are not supposed to pass detailed orders as passed by the courts of law. They may not be very detailed and lengthy orders but they must at least show that the mind was applied and for the reasons, howsoever briefly they may be stated, the order by which a party aggrieved is passed.
    • There cannot be any prescribed form in which the order may be passed but the minimum requirement as indicated above has to be complied with.
  • The Supreme Court has many times taken the view that non-speaking order amounts to depriving a party of a right of appeal. It has also been held in some of the decisions that the appellate authority, while reversing the order must assign reasons for reversal of the findings.

Case Laws:

  • In Mohinder Singh Gill v. Chief Election Commissioner (1977), the Supreme Court held that the concept of natural justice should be in every action whether it is judicial, quasi-judicial, administrative and or quasi-administrative work which involve civil consequences to the parties.
  • In Swadeshi Cotton Mills v. Union of India (1981), the Supreme Court held that the Principles of Natural Justice are considered as fundamental and are therefore implicit in every decision-making functions.
  • In the Union of India v. W.N Chadha (1992), the Supreme Court observed that since the purpose of the Principles of Natural Justice is to ensure justice and prevent and prevent miscarriage of justice, these rules do not extend to those areas where their application may lead to injustice.
  • In the Maa Vindhya Stone Crusher Company v. State of U.P. and Anr., the Allahabad High Court has held that in a civilized society, principles of natural justice ought to be followed in order to maintain rule of law.

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