The basic motive of natural justice is to ensure fairness in social and economical activities of the people and also shields individual liberty against the arbitrary action. Principles of natural justice provide citizens adequate opportunity to defend themselves in a fair and reasonable ground.
The rule against bias and the rule of fair hearing are two important principles of natural justice. In Indian Constitution, the principles of natural justice are firmly grounded under Article 14 & 21. Though the Constitution does not express term natural justice, but the Principles of natural justice can be interpreted in the Constitution.
Natural justice is principle that intended to ensure law with fairness and to secure justice. The concept of natural justice is not provided in Indian Constitution. However, the words, “Justice Social, Economic and political” liberty of thought, belief, worship are incorporate in the Preamble of the Constitution. It is an inherent part of Administrative Law.
Natural justice has a very wide application in administrative discretion. It aims to prevent arbitrariness and injustice towards the citizens with an act of administrative authorities. 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.
What Is Natural Justice?
The word “Natural Justice” is derived from the Roman Concept ‘jus – naturale’ and ‘Lex naturale’ which meant principle of natural law, natural justice, eternal law, natural equity, or good conscience. In English law, natural justice is technical terminology for the rule against bias and the right to a fair hearing. In simple words natural justice means “natural sense of what is right and wrong” and in its technical sense it is synonymous with fairness.
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.”
In its initial, the concept of natural justice was limited to the Judicial proceeding only. After advent of welfare state, the powers and functions of administrative authorities started to increase. As a result, it becomes impossible for law to determine the fair procedure to be followed by each authority while adjudicating any disputes or any quasi-judicial proceedings.
Therefore, courts have made a remedy by establishing a norm so that administrative authorities do not misuse their powers and functions. Administrative authorities being a law executer must provide benefits to the people, but such objective cannot be fulfilled without effective control on the powers given to them.
Court has evolved the principles of natural justice in order to prevent misuse of power and to check on their limits as an important safeguard against injustice. The objective of natural justice is to secure justice to the citizens and prevent contempt of justice. Decisions which violate the natural justice shall stand null and void.
Principles of Natural Justice
According to traditional English law natural justice classified into two principles:
1. Nemo judex in causa sua – (rule against bias)
It means rule against bias. It denotes that no man shall be judge in his own cause or a deciding authority must be impartial and neutral while deciding any case. That is the authority sitting in judgment Should be impartial and act without bias. It expresses that justice Should not merely be done but seen to be done. Proceedings before any adjudicating authority must be according to the principles of natural justice.
It is the human nature that we try to give favourable decision to our friends or relatives, whereas use the same as a weapon against the enemies. ImpartialityImpartiality is one of the important characteristics for good administration. The rule against bias helps to avoid possibility of partial decisions. It ensures public confidence in legal system.
Different Types of Bias
There are main three types of biases:
- Personal Bias-
This is a most common bias that arises out of certain personal relationship between decision making authority and the parties. A judge may be a friend, relative or business associate of a party. He may have an enmity or rivalry against one of the parties. In such cases it is possible that a judge may be biased towards one party or prejudiced toward other.
For example, in “Tata Motor Challenge v. Government of West Bengal,” on the constitutional validity of Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, Justice Saumitra Pal recused himself from the case, stating that he knew some of the people in relation with the case personally.
The supreme court’s decision in “Mineral Development Corporation Ltd. v. State of Bihar” is one of good illustration on this point. The petitioners were granted a mining lease for 99 years in 1947. But in 1955, government quashed the license. The petitioners brought an action against the minister passing this order on the behalf of government, on the ground that, the petitioner in 1952 opposed the minister in General election. Hence the order was suffered from personal bias. Therefore, Supreme Court found the allegation to be true and thus quashed the said order.
- Pecuniary bias–
Pecuniary bias arises when the adjudicator has monetary or financial interest in the subject matter of the proceeding. Least pecuniary interest in the subject matter of litigation will disqualify any person from acting as a judge.
In “Jeejeebhoy v. Collector” Chief Justice reconstituted the bench when it was found that one of the members of the bench was a member of cooperative society for which the land had been acquired.
In “Mohapatra v. State of Orissa”, it was held that when the author of a book was a member of the committee set up for selection of books, and his book was also under consideration by that committee, the possibility of bias could not be ruled out and the selection by that committee cannot be upheld. Thus, probability of bias is sufficient to invalidate the right to sit in judgment and there is no need to have the proof of actual bias.
- Subject matter bias–
Bias as to subject matter may arise when the Judge has general interest in the subject matter in dispute. It may arise also when the deciding authority is directly or otherwise involved in subject matter of the case.
In “Muralidhar v. Kadam Singh” the court refused to quash the decision of Election Tribunal on the ground that the wife of the chairman was a member of the Congress party whose candidate the petitioner defeated.
But 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.
2. Audi Alteram Partem (Rule of Fair Hearing)
This is the second most fundamental rule of natural justice. It means no one should be condemned unheard. If any action has taken against a person then he must be given an equal opportunity of being heard and defend himself.
It gives right to respond to the evidence against them and to choose legal representative of their own choice. The principles of natural justice form a fundamental fair procedure among the parties while deciding a dispute in court or tribunal. It is the duty of every person or body exercising judicial or quasi-judicial functions to act in good faith and to listen fairly both the sides before passing any order.
No party will made to suffer in person without giving not only fair opportunity of being heard but to correct any relevant statement made, which is prejudicial to any of them. While deciding any case fairly it is not mandatory for any decision making authority to follow the same procedure as that followed by a Court.
In case if the Legislature specifically authorizes an administrative authority to proceed without giving an opportunity of heard, then except in case of recognised exceptions, the law would be violative of the principles of fair hearing. Therefore, any decisions which violate the principle of audi alteram partem such can be quashed by court as against the principles of natural justice.
In “Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India”, the passport of the petitioner was impounded by the Government of India in public interest. The petitioner was not given any opportunity before taking the impugned action. The Supreme Court held that the order was violative of principles of Natural justice.
Components of Fair Hearing
Some important requirements in order to constitute the principle of fair hearing are as follows:
He terms notice means knowledge of circumstances or to make something known, of what a man was or might be ignorant of before. To achieve fair hearing, first step is to serve notice to the affected person to show the cause against the proposed action and seek his explanation.
Any order passed without giving notice to the person is against the principles of natural justice and is void ab initio.
In “Fazalbhai v. Custodian” the supreme court held that Notice is to be given even if the statute does not contain any provision for the issue of a notice. However, if the statute specifically waives giving of the notice then no notice need be given as the rules of natural justice do not supplant the law. In “Olga Tellis v. BMC” Court held that have also held that submission of suo moto revision or the claim that there can be no defence to the action proposed cannot justify department i.e. from this requirement of natural justice.
In “Punjab National Bank v. All India Bank Employees Federation”, the notice contained certain charges, but penalty imposed on the charges were not mentioned. Therefore, the Court held notice was improper, and eventually the imposition of penalty was held invalid.
- Right to Know the Evidence Against Him:
The principle of fair hearing requires that there must be full disclosure of evidential facts and of all documents. It means to know the materials on which the authority is going to decide. The general principle denotes that the adjudicating authority must base its decision on the evidences known to the parties. Decision cannot be taken based on the evidence not known to the party concerned. It would be violation of natural justice to take evidence behind the back of the concerned person.
In “S.P Paul v. Calcutta University”, the Calcutta High Court held that there was violation of natural justice in so far as evidence of witnesses had been heard behinds the candidates back which was not known to him.
In the supreme court case “Hiranath Misra v. Rajendra Medical”, an enquiry was held against some male students on the charge of entering girls u and indulging in indecent behaviour towards some girls. The Enquiry Committee recorded the statement of the complainant girl but in the absence the appellants.
The Committee of the college had found them guilty and therefore expelled them from the college for two academic sessions. The said order was challenged because evidence was taken at their back. The Court held that there was no denial of natural justice as the gist of the evidence was brought to their notice and they were provided with an opportunity to rebut it. The court observed that the girls would not have ventured to make the statements in presence of the appellants except at a great risk of retaliation and harassment.
- Cross Examination:
Cross examination is one of the effective methods of establishing truth and exposing falsehood. While in administrative adjudications it is not necessarily mean that the right of cross examination of witness should be given to the person concerned. It depends upon the facts and circumstances of the case i.e. unless the circumstances demand that in the absence of the right to cross examination, the party cannot put up an effective defence in his favour. Refusal to allow such cross examination would amount to violation of principles of natural justice.
In “State of Kerala v. K.T Shaduli”, the respondent- assessee filed return on the basis of his book of account, which was later appeared to be incorrect by Sales Tax Officer. It was said that certain sales appearing in the books of accounts of wholesale dealers were not mentioned in the account books of the respondent.
He applied to the Sales Tax Officer for giving Opportunity to cross examine wholesale dealers which was rejected by him. Holding that the denial of dealers request to cross examine wholesale dealers was denial of fair hearing, the Supreme Court held that it was only through cross examination that the assesse could establish that what was mentioned in his account books was correct and that mentioned in the wholesale dealers was wrong.
- Representation by A Lawyer:
Representation by a lawyer means everyone should be given a chance to represent himself or herself in the court of law through lawyer of their own choice.
In administrative proceedings the right of representation by a lawyer is not ordinarily considered as an important part of natural justice and as such is not claimable as a matter of right unless the said right is conferred by the statute.
In case statute is silent, the courts have in certain situations recognized that some professional assistance must be given to the party to make his right to defend himself meaningful. Such situation may arise when the affected party is illiterate, or a question of law is involved, or the matter is complicated or technical or where expert evidence is on record.
In case “Board of Trustees of the Port of Bombay v Dilip Kumar”, which involved a disciplinary proceeding against an employee of a statutory authority. It was held that it will be violation of the rule of natural justice if the employer is represented by a presenting officer who is legally trained before the enquiry officer while the employer denies such a facility to the employee.
Principles of Natural Justice and In Indian Constitution
In the Constitution of India, nowhere the expression Natural Justice is used. However, the principles of natural justice can be recognised through the body of Indian constitution. Preamble of the constitution includes the words, ‘Justice Social, Economic and political’ liberty of thought, belief, worship… And equality of status and of opportunity. This ensures fairness in social and economical activities of the people. It also acts as shield to individual’s liberty against the arbitrary action which is the base for principles of Natural Justice.
- Article 14 ensures equality before law and equal protection of law to the citizen of India. In some cases, the Courts insisted, that the person adversely affected by administrative action must be given the right of being heard before the administrative body passes an order against him. Such a procedural safeguard may minimize the chance of the Administrative authority passing an arbitrary order. Thus, the Supreme Court has extracted from Art. 14 the principle that natural justice is an integral part of administrative process.
There are several instances where Art 14 of the Constitution is invoked to protect individual from the violation of natural justice principles. For example, in famous case “Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India” the supreme court stated that Art 14 is an authority for the proposition that the principles of natural justice are an integral part of the guarantee of equality assured by Art. 14 an order depriving a person of his civil right passed without affording him an opportunity of being heard suffers from the vice of violation of natural justice.
- Article 21 guarantees right to life and liberty which is the fundamental provision to protect liberty and ensure life with dignity. Supreme Court of India knowing the importance of ‘fair trial’ by liberal interpretation of Art. 21, made several provisions for the protection of accused and provided adequate safeguards to defend his case. SC is of the opinion that conducting a fair trial for those who are accused of criminal offences is the cornerstone of democracy. Conducting a fair trial is beneficial both to the accused as well as to the society. A conviction resulting from an unfair trial is contrary to our concept of justice.
- Article 22 guarantees natural justice and provision of fair hearing to the arrested person. Person who is arrested should be informed the grounds for his arrest as soon as he is arrested. The arrested person has the right to consult and to be defended by legal practitioner of his choice. Person who is arrested and detained in custody must be produced before the nearest magistrate within a period of twenty-four hours of such arrest excluding the time necessary for the journey from the place of arrest to the court of the magistrate.
- Directive principles of state Policy specially Article 39-A takes care of social, economic, and politically backward sections of people and to accomplish the objective of natural justice. Article 93-A ensures free legal aid to indigent or disabled persons.
- Article 32 and 226 provides constitutional remedies in cases violation of any of the fundamental rights including principles of natural justice. Article 32 in the Indian Constitution deals with constitutional remedies that an Indian citizen can seek from the Supreme Court and High Court against the violation of his/her fundamental rights. The Supreme Court power to issue writs for the enforcement of rights under Article 32 whereas the High Court has the same power under Article 226.
Five types of writs are Habeas Corpus, mandamus, prohibition quo-warranto and certiorari. Writ of Habeas Corpus is invoked to prevent unlawful detention and Mandamus is invoked to compel public official to perform his legal duties. Writ of Prohibition and Certiorari are used to prevent Judicial and quasi-judicial bodies from acting without jurisdiction, in excess of jurisdiction, or where error of law apparent on face of record, violation of Fundamental Right and on the ground of violation of Principles of Natural Justice. Quo- warranto is used to test a person’s legal right to hold an office.
- Article 311 of the constitution ensures constitutional protection to civil servants. Clause (2) of Art.311 declares no such person as aforesaid shall be dismissed or removed or reduced in rank except after an inquiry in which he has been informed of the charges against him and given a reasonable opportunity of being heard in respect of those charges. The word ‘reasonable opportunity of being heard’ includes all the dimension of principles of natural justice. Thus, civil servants cannot be dismissed, removed, or reduced from rank without giving reasonable opportunity of being heard.
In a welfare state like India, the role and jurisdiction of administrative agencies is increasing at a rapid pace and with rapid expansion of state liability. To prevent abuse of power and to control the arbitrary decision by the administrative authorities, the principles of natural justice have been adopted by the judiciary to protect rights of people.
In India, the principles of natural justice are provided in Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution. With the introduction of concept of substantive and procedural due process in Article 21, all that fairness which is included in the principles of natural justice can be read into Art. 21.The violation of principles natural justice results in arbitrariness and such decision is said to be void or voidable.
In a democratic country like India, natural justice in action must be found and proclaimed by judiciary to keep intact the supremacy of rule of law in India.
- Nature and Concept of Administrative law, Prof Narender Kumar
 Nature and Concept of Administrative law, Prof Narender Kumar.
 AP No. 285 of 2018.
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