Vishrut Gupta, Lloyd Law College. This article strives to explain the readers about the Principles of Natural Justice, which is nowhere mentioned in the constitution but used widely in the Indian Law. It also covers the concept of Social Justice briefly.
Administrative Law and Natural Justice
Administrative Law is a type of public law that is specifically made for public welfare. Its formulation arises post-independence when there was a shift in the working of the state and welfare of the society was set to priority. This statute grants the discretionary powers and guidelines to exercise power avoiding arbitrary ruling and keeping a check. According to K. C. Davis, “Administrative law concerns with the powers and procedures of administrative agencies, including especially the law governing judicial review of administrative action”. Our topic of discussion has deep roots in the statute mentioned above. To avoid the misuse of wide discretion of powers, principles of Natural Justice is used in administrative actions such as fair trials, unbiased judgement, and limited exercise of powers by the executives. ‘Fairness’ is the key term of Natural Justice and these principles are also known as substantial Justice or fundamental Justice or Universal justice or fair play in action. In India, the principles of Natural Justice were first highlighted in the case of ‘Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, 1978’.
Social Justice is a civic concept of equality based on economic rights, political rights and social rights and opportunities. This concept arose in the early 19th century during the Industrial Revolution, when employers started exploiting the labourers. It aimed to create a more egalitarian and capitalist society. Initially, the justice system only restricted to boost the economy, but by the mid- 20th century, the objectives extended to the environment, race, gender and inequality issues. There are five main principles of social justice-
1) Access to Resources- Many a times, the basic resources to live such as food, shelter, education and healthcare are not given to the citizens leading to social injustice.
2) Equity- All the people are given the same socio-economic tools to uplift the social status and gradually achieve growth in certain parameters.
3) Participation- People are given equal rights to raise the voice and actively participate in the public policy. They play a major role in every policy formed affecting their standard of living and livelihood.
4) Diversity- Due to a diverse population, discrimination in employment based on sex, caste, creed, ethnicity and race are some constant issues faced.
5) Human Rights- Human Rights are universal rights and they are applied regardless of nationality, race etc.
Justice v. Natural Justice
Justice is a notion of rightness based upon ethics and morality, law, religion, fairness, equality and religion. Legal Justice works based on a legal framework laid down and regulated by the government and enforced by the courts while the principles of Natural Justice are not codified; these are merely based upon the judge’s discretion whether to include them in certain cases or not. The principles of natural justice don’t have a standard or scientific definition. Various jurists have defined it according to their hypothesis. These principles can step in only in the presence of an administrative action leading to the infringement of the rights of an individual. The importance of these principles can be recognised in various statutes as every law made has the ingredient of equity in it. All such theories and postulates are impractical in the absence of a ‘Good Judge’. Impartiality, Neutrality and Unprejudiced- are the three essential qualities which a good judge possesses.
Exceptions to Natural Justice[i]
These principles of Natural Justice are excluded from the exceptions of-
1) Statutory Provisions
2) Constitutional provisions.
3) Legislative act.
4) Public interest and welfare.
5) Urgent action or in case of emergency or necessity.
6) Ground of chaos.
8) Educational postponement.
9) Interim prevention action.
10) Fraud cases.
Principles of Natural Justice
There are two main principles of natural justice-
1) Nemo judex in causa sua’
2) Audi alteram partem
Nemo judex in causa sua’- A bias is an “operative prejudice concerning a party or issue.” Whenever an opinion is formed as an outcome of selective thoughts to favour, give an edge to a party or oppose a party for the sake of a relationship or liking, the opinion so formed is known as ‘biased opinion’. It can be in a form of real bias, imputed bias or apparent bias. ‘Nemo judex in causa sua’ or the Rule against Bias is made to rectify the unfairness and partiality in the judgement based on evidence. The above phrase means- “No one should be a judge in his case.” There are three kinds of bias found-
- Personal bias– In this situation, the judge has personal feeling, or favouring a party because of some relationship with that party. There are two types of tests for personal bias, namely, the ‘Likelihood of Bias’ and the ‘Suspicion of Bias’.
- Pecuniary bias – This means biased actions due to money-related incentives. Sometimes a judge is prejudiced in his judgement after being bribed and does not follow the Natural Justice.
- Subject-matter bias– In some situations, the judge creates a pre-formed opinion of the subject matter. Ultimately he fails to give fair judgements. This may be due to departmental conflicts, acting under dictations or even connect with the issue.
(a) R. v. Brandsley, 1976 I.R. 217 at 223
A licence had to be granted to a cooperative society. The judgement was given in favour of that society and later it was found that 5 out of 7 judges were the members of that society. The granted license was later cancelled because of the financial interest of the judges.
(b) Tata Cellular v. Union of India, 1994 INSC 401
The father was a government employee and the tender was submitted by his son’s company and approved for the same company due to his father. Due to personal bias, the tender was finally quashed by the court.
(c) Meenglass Tea State v. Workmen, 1963
A manager beat the workmen and the inquiry was conducted by him only. In a way, he became the witness and the judge of the case, later quashed by the court.
(d) State of U.P. v. Mohd. Nooh, 1958
In a departmental inquiry against an employee, a witness turned hostile. The inquiry officer left the inquiry and gave evidence against that employee. Later, he resumed the inquiry and dismissed that employee. Here also, the order of dismissal was quashed as it was based on personal bias.
Audi Alteram Partem
The natural right to be heard cannot be condemned. Each party should be provided with a reasonable opportunity to tell their side of the story, to produce their evidence and to rebut the evidence against him. Audi alteram partem or Right to Fair Hearing is the second strength of the principles of natural justice, which ensures that a fair opportunity to speak must be given to the party to defend the case against him. Some of the pre-requisites and essentials of the fair hearing are-
1) Notice should be served to the accused providing him a certain period so that he could also get legal aid to defend him
2) Accused should know the evidence against him which are presented in the court. He should also be given legal representation and financial aid to defend the case against him
3) He should be allowed to present his case and facts, and tell his version of the story. The chance to rebut or prove the evidence against him as wrong must also be given.
4) The right to cross-examine the witness should be enjoyed to make his side safer and stronger.
5) The fair hearing must be followed and both parties should be allowed to speak.
6) The Rule against Dictation should be followed and the decisions made by the judge should be his own and he should be dictated by external powers.
(a) Newspaper Express Pvt Ltd. v. Union of India, AIR 1958 SC 578
The court said that any administrative order passed by an authority without giving the parties, the reasonable opportunity to speak, and the order so passed will be considered illegal and must be set aside. Hearing is an essential ingredient in Indian Law.
(b) Public Prosecutor v. K.P. Chandrashekharan, (1957) 8 S.T.C. 6 (Mad)
The notice must give sufficient time to any person summoned or connected to the case.
(c) Dhakeswari Cotton Mills Ltd. v. C.I.T., AIR 1955 SC 65
Supreme Court overruled the Tax Tribunal decision where the taxpayer was not informed by the concerned department to pay off the due taxes.
(d) State of Orissa v. Binpani Dei, AIR 1967 SC 1269
A 55-year old employee was forcefully given the pre-mature retirement on the ground of the age; the order was set aside as he was not allowed to be heard.
(e) Khatri v. the State of Bihar, AIR 1981 SC 928
The court said that legal aid should be provided to the needy accused not only during the trial but also at the time of remand.
Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, 1978[iii]
It was a landmark judgement where the petitioner was asked to surrender her passport by the Regional Passport Officer, New Delhi. When asked the reason for this order, ‘interests of general public’ grounds were provided. The petitioner reached the SC saying that the order by the authorities has infringed the fundamental rights under Article-14, 19(a), 19(g) and 21. They also rose that this order by the Passport authorities has also violated the principles of natural justice by not providing the petitioner with a reasonable opportunity of a fair chance of hearing to defend her (violation of Audi alteram partem). The respondents said that article-21 needs not to pass the ‘test of reasonability’ and the makers of the constitution have deliberately made it. They further added that the principles of natural justice are nowhere mentioned in the constitution of India and are highly vague.
The Supreme Court in their judgement admitted that there is a conflict between ‘procedure established by law’ and ‘due process of law’ but it does not mean that the law need not pass the ‘test of reasonability’, and further said that we cannot ignore the principles of natural justice even if they are absent in the constitution. They insisted that article-21 should be given a wider scope and should be exercised in a fair and just manner. The court also created an interlink between article- 14, 19 and 21 by overruling the A.K. Gopalan v. State Of Madras Case and these three laws were together termed as the ‘Golden Triangle’ of the Constitution and insisted to be read together.
Natural Justice is a very essential postulate and should definitely be included in our constitution. The principles of natural justice provide a blanket covering an individual from unfairness. It is not codified cannon. The principles of Natural Justice improve the functioning of administrative authorities. It ensures the right of people against the unjustified and arbitrary practice of power by the administrative authority. The main motive of natural justice is that it prevents the failure of justice. It also ensures that justice is done to both the parties in trial. The infringement of principles of natural justice results in arbitrariness and unfairness and the decision made in such a way is void or voidable.
[i] PaathShala, L. (2020, 12). Principles of Natural Justice. Retrieved 05, 2021, from https://legalpaathshala.com/principles-of-natural-justice/
[ii] The Fact Factor, Pecuniary Bias and Official Bias (2019), https://thefactfactor.com/facts/law/civil_law/administrative-law/pecuniary-bias-and-official-bias/4410/#:~:text=Official Bias or Subject Matter Bias: Another type,not disqualify a judge from deciding the matter. (last visited 2021).
[iii] Law Circa, Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India Case Analysis (Interconnection between Articles 14, 19 and 21) (2020), https://lawcirca.com/maneka-gandhi-v-union-of-india-case-analysis-interconnection-between-articles-14-19-and-21/ (last visited 2021).
[iv] Corner, L. (2020, 07). Significance of Natural Justice under Administrative Law. Retrieved 05, 2021, from https://lawcorner.in/significance-of-natural-justice-under-administrative-law/
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