The concept and principles of natural justice are not something new. It is as old as the dispensation of law itself. Natural justice is involved with moral justice and is regulated through the law of equity. In a layman’s language, natural justice means protecting an individual and taking reasonable discretion with utmost fairness and legality. The need for natural justice arose from the excessive use of organized power which leads to jeopardizing an individual’s right to defend himself. These principles are not restricted to formulas or codified but are part of human ethics. It’s just common law that insists on giving a minimal level of fairness to an individual when his rights are being misused in any of a broad range of factual scenarios. Natural justice ensures a fair hearing of the matter. Here the concern does not exist with the decision being reasonable but the procedure of decision making should be reasonable. It implies providing justice to everyone without menacing another. Its belief lies in maximizing the beneficiaries and decreasing the disadvantaged. In order to eradicate the abuse of power and to check on their limits has evolved to lessen the injustice in decision making and safeguards from any biased decisions and non-hearing. Natural justice amounts to fairness, equality, and equity.
These are the two main rules of natural justice:
Hearing rule: The rule states that the people who are being affected by the decision being made must be given a fair chance of presenting and defending themselves.
The bias rule: Here the judgement maker should be entirely impartial and reasonable in making the decisions. The decision taken must be biased free and taken in a free and fair manner to ensure total justice of the law.
The concept of natural justice is a very old concept and has been in use since time immemorial. The people of Greek and Romans were very much familiar with the concept. The very notion of natural justice derives from the religious and philosophical viewpoint of how we see ourselves with respect to nature. The concept of natural justice was acknowledged since the days of Kautilya, Arthashastra, and Adam. In the bible, when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of knowledge then Adam and Eve were given the chance to defend themselves. Subsequently, the concept of natural justice was adopted by English jurists to be essentials as to override all laws.
The word Natural justice is derived from Roman word ‘lex naturale’ and ‘jus-naturale’ which in turn gave wider meaning to the principles of natural justice, natural law, and equity. Lord Evershed, Master of the Rolls in Vionet v Barrett remarked, “Natural Justice is the natural sense of what is right and wrong.”
In the case of Mohinder Singh Gill vs Chief election Commissioner, the court held the importance of fair decision-making in every step of the procedure irrespective of it being judicial, quasi-judicial, administrative, and or quasi-administrative work.
Objective of the Principles
The main objective of the concept is to provide justice to both the parties of the case. Everyone should be given an equal opportunity to be heard. The hearing done should be made by a person who is not related to the parties either directly or indirectly. The concept of natural justice is the concept of fairness. Natural justice is a way of protecting one’s fundamental rights. It fills all the gaps and loopholes of the law. The main objective of natural justice is to prevent the act of miscarriage of justice.
The concept of natural justice says that the principles should be free of bias and the parties should be given an equal chance to present themselves and get to be heard and the decisions taken by the courts should be informed to the respective parties and the decision made must be in good faith and not arbitrary but reasonably. There has been no mention in the provisions of the said concept and questions were raised whether the adjudicating authority is bound to follow the principles. This confusion was resolved by the Supreme court in the case of Manohar s/o Manikrao Anchule v State of Maharashtra & Ors. The apex court held that the adjudication process should be in accordance with the doctrine of Nemo judex in causa sea i.e., no one should be the judge of his own as it may lead bias decisions and impartiality and Audi alteram partem i.e., no one should be left unheard and given a fair chance of defending themselves. These two stands as the pillars of natural justice. The principles of natural justice are in a fair sense a guiding tool to prevent judicial, quasi-judicial, and administrative bodies from doing injustice.
Claiming of natural justice
Natural justice can be claimed where the procedure is judicial, quasi-judicial like panchayat and tribunals, etc. It endeavours around the concept of fairness, basic moral principles. With the increasing number of cases, the administrative authority is vested with excess power which might affect the individual right without any safeguard and protection of the rights. Therefore, the principle of natural justice is important for fair procedures.
As per se the traditional English common law, natural justice has the following principles:
Nemo judex in causa sua (Against the bias): This Latin maxim means no one should be a judge in his case as well as neither directly nor indirectly connected to the respective parties. It is also called the ‘Doctrine of bias’ as the judge may be prejudiced in the case. However, the concept has undergone a lot of changes in recent times but still, it remains fundamentally the same. The rule goes for impartial justice and the decision was taken on all the evidence present for the case. Where a judge is found to have an interest in a particular case then the decision given by the authority shall be accounted as void. It's in human nature that one can’t partake in the decision righteously without any bias where his own interest lies impartially. There are still some cases where the discretion is made impartially but shall not be executed because of the connection that lies between the authority and the case administered. The rule against bias instils a sense of belief in the legal system of the country.
Types of bias
Personal bias: This is the most derivative as well as common bias that arises out of a certain relationship between the decision-making authority and the parties to the case. There is a likelihood that the judge to the party may be biased towards one and prejudice towards another. In accordance to successfully prove the personal bias by the administrative authority, it is necessary to provide the necessary evidence to prove the biasness.
In the case of A.K. Kraipak vs Union of India, Naquishband, who was the chief conservator of forests, was a member of the Selection board as well as a candidate for selection to the All India cadre of the forest Service. Although he did not make any consideration of the selection procedure and his name was approved, the apex court observed that there were chances of being biased as the mere presence of the candidate on the selection boards indicates personal interests which can influence the judgment of other members.
In the case of Cottle vs Cottle, the chairman of the bench was a friend of the wife's family who initiated matrimonial proceedings against his husband. The wife had also told her husband her closeness with the chairman and how he is going to make the decision in her favour. The court ordered rehearing and observed the closeness of the chairman and dismissed the judgment given prior.
Pecuniary bias: This bias is a very crucial kind of rule against bias. Numbers of cases in the English courts have laid down the importance of this kind of rule. Notwithstanding the amount involved, this kind of pecuniary interest will invalidate the whole proceedings. This principle can be better explained in the case of Dimes v Grand Junction Canal, a public limited company that filed a suit against the landowner in the matter largely involving the interest of the company. Here the Lord Chancellor who gave the decision in the favour of the company was a shareholder in the company. His decision was quashed by the House of Lords because of the Lord Chancellor’s pecuniary interest in the company.
The same principle was adopted by the Indian adjudicating authority. It is non-arbitrary that the pecuniary interest lest being small holds the power to completely disqualify a member from acting as a judge in the subject matter of the proceedings.
Bias as to subject matter: When the decision-making authority is involved directly or indirectly in the subject matter of the proceedings.
In the case of Muralidhar vs Kadam Singh, the court revoked the decisions taken by the Election tribunals on the ground that the wife of the chairman was a member of the Congress party whose candidate the petitioner defeated.
Departmental bias: The strenuousness of departmental bias is very common in every administrative process and it is not something checked efficiently and every then and now due to the lack of attention will lead to unfairness in the proceeding of the case.
Policy notion bias: This kind of bias is uncommon and difficult to prove as we never know what's happening in another person's mind. The judges are expected to be like a clean slate but sometimes preconceived notions can lead to destroying the even-handed justice.
Audi alteram partem: This three-word maxim literally means no person should go unheard in the court. All the respective parties have the chance to defend themselves in court against all the charges imposed against them. No person should be adjourned of the charges unless that person is well aware of the proceedings with a notice and an opportunity to present his case fully. It’s a rule of fair hearing.
This rule covers various stages in the subject matter of the proceedings which starts from notice to final determination. Right to fair hearing thus comprises of:
Right to give notice: The word notice is driven by Latin word ‘notifa’ which means being known. In order to proceed with any legal proceedings against or with a person, a notice must be given to the said party to make thee aware of the cause of the proposed action. The hearing starts when the notice has been given to the affected person.
Any commencement of the case without issuing a legal notice to the affected person is against the moral of natural justice and considered void ab initio. In the case of K.A. Abdul Khader vs Dy. Director, the statutory rule prescribed the way the notice should be served:
By delivery to the affected person
Sending the notice through mail
If the above two fails then affixing the notice at the doorstep of the affected person.
The way of sending mail is of procedural matter. If the notice is given to a large number of people, it may be published in the newspaper meanwhile the case is not similar to an individual.
In the case of Punjab National Bank vs All India Bank Employees Federation, the notice served was held improperly by the judge as the penalty charged was not mentioned in the notice and eventually, the imposition of penalty was held invalid.
Right to present the case and provide evidence: After serving the notice, the concerned party should be given a reasonable amount of time to process the whole situation and collect the evidence for the proceedings. Dismal of providing time shall not be done on a reasonable basis or due to arbitrary.
Right to cross Examination: The right of fair hearing includes the right to cross examine the statement given by the parties. No administrative adjudicating body can deny the process of cross examination as it may lead to miscarriage of natural justice.
Sometimes the rule of fair hearing does not comply with the case and the right to cross examination is rejected or denied. As in the case of Hari Nath Mishra vs Rajendra Medical college. Here in the case the process of cross examination was denied as the male student who was charged off with some indecent behaviour towards a female student. The right of cross examination would have amounted to embarrassment and discomfort to the female student.
Also, if the concerned parties themselves denies to the process of cross examination, then it may not fall under the ambit of a miscarriage of natural justice and this observed in the case of Ludhiana food product.
Right to legal representation: In the process of the inquiry, every person accused has the right to have a legal representation. No one can deny the access of the parties to their legal representative.
Right to deny wrong evidence: The concerned party has the right to know his case and deny the wrong evidence present in the case. The very essence of natural justice is not only making decisions but also how and on what basis the evidence is made. No evidence can be taken into consideration which is irrelevant to the subject matter of the legal proceedings.
Disclosure of evidence to party: The concerned party has the right to know all the evidential facts and documents on the basis of which the authority is going to make the decisions. It is a violation to take evidence off the witnesses behind the concerned party and this was observed in the case of S.P Paul vs Calcutta University.