The application of principles of natural justice is not a new phenomenon in the legal system. It forms the bulwark of any judgement or legal argumentation. It pertains to moral justice and is governed by the laws of equity. The principles of natural justice ensure that a justice is met out to all and not only to one of the parties in a judicial proceeding. One person’s justice shouldn’t jeopardize it for another. The righteousness of the law lies in maximizing the beneficiaries and decreasing the disadvantaged. This has lead to the significance of due process and rule of law in judicial proceedings and the legal system. There exists a close connection between moral principles and legal procedures as per principles of natural justice, rather than being two watertight compartments.
According to Aristotle, law inspired by reason is natural law and when general proposition of legality is found to work hardship to a particular case, equity must be applied to mitigate and rectify harshness. It’s the natural law that provides framework of principles and it’s left to the legal law to supply flesh and blood to the legal system.[i]
It has been developed as a common law concept; an obligation to provide a minimum level of fairness when an individual’s rights are affected in any of a broad range of factual scenarios. The principles of natural justice have come out from the need of man to protect him from the excesses of organized power.[ii]
Origin of the concept of Natural Justice
Natural justice has found its origin in the early Greek and Roman empires, being acknowledged even in Kautilya’s Arthashastra. In more ways than other the Indian concept of dharma is similar to the concept of natural justice. All powers of the State including executive, legislative and judicial were maintained by the king. Therefore it was on the king to reform and create the Code of law to maintain peace and equality in the State. Indian emperor Ashok laid down the important rules as to what nature of justice should be. He had great concern for fairness in the exercise of justice, caution and tolerance in application of sentences, etc. Similarly the great Babylonian king Hammurabi ensured the obligations of officials by ruling that “any judge who reaches an incorrect decision is to be fined and removed from the bench permanently”.
Evidently, principles of natural justice are not a new invention however it isn’t manmade either. It has been derived from our core moral conscience and built upon by several philosophers, jurists, kings and teachers. Aristotle being the biggest proponent of natural justice as support for a virtuous existence that advances lives of individuals and promotes perfect community; people should employ practical wisdom or active reason to be consistent with a virtuous existence.
Principles of Natural Justice
Principles of natural justice can be said to be the rules of fair play. It is a common law concept that represents higher procedural aspects developed by courts which every judicial, quasi-judicial, and administrative body must abide by. Natural justice equates with fairness, equality and equity. The concept also extends to a general duty to act fairly and to ensure that fair decision is reached by an objective decision maker. The chance to be heard by an impartial judge is what lies at the heart of the principle and procedural fairness. Ensuring procedural fairness protects individual rights and enhances public trust in the process.
The Romans believed that some legal principles are self evident, principles of natural justice being on similar lines. Generally no provisions mandating the application of these principles are found in any statute. Therefore the question arises whether the adjudicating authority is bound to follow these principles. This was answered by the Supreme Court in the case of Manohar s/o Manikrao Anchule v State of Maharashtra & Ors[iii] . The Apex Court held that adjudicatory process has to be in consonance with the doctrine of audi alteram partem,i.e., no one should be condemned unheard and nemo debet esse judex in propriacausa sua, i.e. no one should be judge in his own case. So even if there is no strait jacket formula for application of principles of natural justice they are indeed very important guiding tools to prevent judicial, quasi-judicial and administrative body from doing injustice.
These principles have been laid down by the Court being the minimum protection of rights of individuals against arbitrary procedure, and to halt misuse of powers vested in authorities. In Kesar Enterprises Ltd v State of UP[iv] it was laid down that the aim of the rules of natural justice is to secure equity and fairness and to prevent miscarriage of justice. The Principles can be divided in two: the rule against bias and the rule of hearing.
The rule against bias
The principle of rule against bias is based on or derived from a Latin maxim, “nemo debetesse judex in propria causa sua” which means, “no one should be made a judge in his owncause”. This principle is one of the two pillars of natural justice. The principal requirement of this rule is that the person who judges – whether he is a judge or an administrative authority-should be impartial and free from any kind of bias. To explicate the importance or significance of the requirement of this principle in the judicial, quasi-judicial and administrative system, Professor M.P. Jain says[v] –
“The reason of underlying this rule is that bias being a mental condition there are serious difficulties in the path of proving on a balance of probabilities that a person required to act judicially was in fact biased. Bias is the result of an attitude of mind leading to a predisposition towards an issue. Bias may arise unconsciously. Further, justice should not only be done but seem to be done. Therefore, the existence of actual bias is irrelevant. What is relevant is the impression which a reasonable man has of the administration of justice.”[vi]
Bias is usually of three kinds:
1. Pecuniary bias
2. Personal bias
3. Bias as to subject matters
Pecuniary bias is one of the essential kinds of the rule against bias. A series of consistent decisions in English Courts have laid down the rule that the pecuniary interest, howsoever small, will invalidate the proceedings. Judicial approach is unanimous and decisive on the point that any pecuniary interest, however miniscule it may be, would vitiate administrative action. We can understand such principle in a better sense by the Dimes v Grand Junction Canal[vii] case. Here the appellant was engaged in prolonged litigations against the respondent company. The appellant appealed before the Lord Chancellor, who gave a decision against him. It later came to knowledge of the appellant that Lord Chancellor had a share in the respondent company. In appeal, their Lordships of House of Lords held that though Lord Chancellor forgot to mention about the interest in the company by mere inadvertence, yet the interest was sufficient to invalidate the decision given by the Lord Chancellor. The Indian Courts also invariably followed the decision in Dimes’ case.
Personal bias is also an important rule against bias. Personal bias has always been matter of judicial interpretation. It can be claimed that no other type of bias came for judicial scrutiny as much as this type at least for a full century. In the other words, personal bias can also be responsible to invalidate a whole proceeding. Such kind of bias mainly arises from certain relationship or from the growing dependability of the human relations. This bias can be of two types, –
- Where the presiding officer has formed a notion before the completion of the proceeding;
- Where he is interest in one of the parties either directly as a party or indirectly as being related to one of the parties.
In Manek Lal v. Prem Chand[viii] the respondent had filed a complaint of professional misconduct against one Manek Lal who was an advocate of Rajasthan High Court. The Chief Justice of the High Court appointed bar council tribunal to enquiry into the alleged misconduct of the petitioner. The tribunal consisted of the Chairman who had earlier represented the respondent in a case. He was a senior advocate and was once the Advocate General of the State. The Supreme Court held the view that even though Chairman had no personal contact with his client and did not remember that he had appeared on his behalf in certain proceedings, and there was no real likelihood of bias, yet he was disqualified to conduct the enquiry. He was disqualified on the ground that justice not only be done but must appear to be done to the litigating public. Here, actual proof of prejudice was not necessary. Reasonable ground for assuming the possibility of such kind of bias is sufficient.
Bias as to subject-matters:
Bias as to the subject-matters is also an ineluctable kind of bias in the rule against bias. It is also a principle by which an entire proceeding can be invalidated. In this principle, a judge may have a bias in the subject-matter which means that he is himself a party, or has some direct connection with the litigation, so as to constitute a legal interest. In Andhra Scientific Co. Ltd. v. Sheshagiri Rao and Anr[ix], an inquiry was conducted by the General Manager of a factory against some workmen. The Managing Director took over the inquiry in the matter at a later stage, when it became necessary to examine the General Manager as a witness and decided the case. The Managing Director himself produced the evidence actively for the purpose of security or conclusion against the workmen. Further, General Manager and Managing Director, though both were different persons, yet constituted in substance practically one entity and gave the decision. The Court held that the inquiry officers were disqualified to hold the enquiry as it was a clear violation of the rule against bias.
The rule of hearing
The rule of hearing is basically based on a Latin maxim, “audi alteram partem”, i.e., no one should be condemned unheard. It is the basic concept of the principles of natural justice. It signifies that no man can be condemned without a hearing. The application of this principle is not confined to judicial process strictly so-called but it takes within its sweep all quasi-judicial functions and to certain extent even administrative acts. To give every citizen a fair hearing is just as much a canon of good legal procedure. Rules of natural justice require that a party should have the opportunity of adducing all relevant evidence on which he relies, that the evidence of the opponent should be taken in his presence and that he should be given the opportunity of cross-examining the witnesses, examined by the party and that no materials should be relied on against him without his being given an opportunity of examining them.[x]
Kinds of the rule of audi alteram partem:
It is an accepted principle that notice must be given to the party or parties before the proceedings start. If it is not served to the party, the whole proceeding can be invalidated. Basically, notice is the starting point of any hearing. In Vikramaditya Jain v. Union of India & Ors[xi] the Court has been observed that the notice must be given to the party before the proceedings start to give both the parties a fair chance.
Under Indian law, the requirement of hearing is an essential aspect of judicial, quasi-judicial and administrative proceedings. Any order passed by the judicial or quasi-judicial or administrative authority without reasonable opportunity of being heard is illegal and must be set aside. According to such principle, in Mahadayal PremChandra v. Commercial Tax Officer[xii] when the Sales Tax Officer depended entirely on the advice of his senior and assessed the appellant without showing him the senior’s opinion and giving him an opportunity to state his point of view against the same, the Supreme Court quashed the assessment proceeding.
However, there are some exceptions of the rule of hearing, such as,
- Where the functions of the authority is policy oriented;
- Where the functions of the agency concerned are held to be administrative or discretionary;
- Where the obligation to give notice and opportunity to be heard would obstruct the taking of prompt action, specially action of a preventive remedial nature;
- Where disclosure of relevant information to the party affected would be prejudicial to public interests.
Development of principles of Natural Justice in India
The rules of natural justice are neither fixed nor formally prescribed in any code. They are better known than described. They are easier proclaimed than defined. These principles ensure that the decisions of the public authorities are not only fair, but are also seen to be fair. Fair play is ahead of public policy, lining all administrative procedure. The aim of natural justice rules is to secure justice, and to prevent miscarriage of justice. Such delineation of the application of the principles of natural justice is just same in the Indian judicial, quasi-judicial and administrative bodies. In maximum time, the implementation of the principles of natural justice is depended on the discretion of the Court. Although, there are some provisions in the Indian Constitution as well as in some Acts for enacting such rules, but still such rules are considered as the “judge – made” or the “judge determined” notions. In India, there are several cases, by which these principles have been enforced in the Indian scenario, as follows,
In Rattan Lal Sharma v. Managing Committee, Dr. Hari Ram (Co-Education) Higher Secondary School[xiii], the appellant party Rattan Lal Sharma was appointed Principal of a co-educational higher secondary school in Datarpur in district Hoshiarpur (Punjab). The appearing respondent has constituted three members Managing Committee of the school. One of the members of the Committee was the teacher-representative Maru Ram. The Managing Committee served on the applicant a charge-sheet containing twelve charges including a charge looked by the said teacher member of the Committee in respect of certain financial irregularities. The Committee held an inquiry; and the said teacher member deposed against the appellant in support of the charge of financial irregularity levelled by him; and then ignoring the participation of the appellant participated is the deliberation of the Committee as well. The Committee found the Charges including that of the financial irregularity established; and took follow-up action, dismissing the appellant. The same was confirmed by the Deputy Commissioner and affirmed by the Commissioner. The appellant protested; and moved the Supreme Court by a petition under Article 226 of the Constitution. He submitted that the inquiry conducted by the Managing Committee was vitiated, and action taken by the Committee and appointed by the Commissioner to the proposed punishment was bad in law as being in violation of the principles of natural justice, and by being bias practised by the teacher a member of the Committee also by the Committee. The respondent submitted that the impugned action was administrative and so was its summary approval without any proceeding by the Commissioner. It was further submitted that the action in the instant case was administrative; and the rules of natural justice did not apply. No bias could be attributed to any of the respondents.
The Supreme Court allowed the appeal with costs against the appearing respondent. In that case, the Supreme Court also observed that the rules of natural justice were foundational and fundamental concepts of law, which are considered a part of the legal and judicial system. In A.K. Kraipak v. Union of India[xiv], the petitioner Kraipak and others with him were the Gazetted officers in the Forest Department of the Jammu and Kashmir Government. They desired to be selected for the newly constituted Indian Forest Service under the Indian Administrative Service Act, 1951.
They could not be selected for the said service due to serious irregularities practised in the selections. Consequently, they challenged the recommendations of the Union Public Service Commission, and the follow-up action of the Government of India on such recommendations. They contended that the procedure adopted for the selection was unfair and biased. On the other hand, the respondent Union of India disputed the allegation of bias and urged that nothing unusual happened to the prejudice of the appellants.
Further, it contended that the selection process was purely administrative and the rules of natural justice had no application whatsoever. The Supreme Court rejected the respondents‟ contentions; and held that although the selection proceedings were administrative, the rules of natural justice applied.
In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India[xv], the petitioner was issued a passport on June 1, 1976 under the Passport Act, 1967. The same was impounded by the government of India under §10(3)(c)of the Passport Act, 1967 “in public interest”. She was to surrender the same within 7 days from the receipt of that letter. She was immediately wrote a letter to the Regional Passport Officer to furnish her copy of the statement of reasons for the making of the order, which he refused to provide on grounds of public good. Aggrieved by it, she filed a writ petition challenging the act of the Passport authorities, and also challenging the validity of §10(3)(c) that it was against Articles 14, 19(1) (a), 19(1) (g) and 21.
The Supreme Court in this case gave a judgement in favour of Maneka Gandhi and stated several rules to support the application of the principles of natural justice. In this case, Justice Bhagwati observed that fundamental rights are the basic rights that are cherished by each human being. These are calculated rights that protect the dignity of an individual and provide conditions for the development of his personality to the greatest extent. Fundamental rights build a pattern of guarantee and imposes on the State an obligation to not to encroach upon individual liberty.
Article 21 protects the right of life and personal liberty of citizen not only from the executive action but from the legislative action also. The expression “personal liberty” in Article 21 is of widest amplitude and it covers a variety of rights which go to constitute the personal liberty of man and some of them have rose to the status of distinct fundamental rights and given additional protection under Article 19. §10(3) (c) was in violation of Article 21 since it did not prescribe “procedure” within the meaning of that Article 21. §10(3) (c) was in violation of Articles 19(1)(a) and 19(1) (g) since it imposed reasonable restrictions.
The Passport authority did not follow the principles of the natural justice in issuing orders against Maneka Gandhi. They had not followed “audi alteram partem”. They simply tried to avoid under the pretext of “public interest”. But they did not show what public interest is going to be protected by impounding the passport of Maneka Gandhi.
If the public interest was a real one, they might have disclosed it in the order itself. Thus the administrative procedure should generally conform to the rules of natural justice and the procedure established by law shouldn’t be followed blindly, rather it should be due process to ensure natural justice triumphs. Thus, subsequently, such rule is being followed by the judiciary and the quasi-judiciary bodies alone with the administrative bodies.
In State of Madras v. V.G. Row[xvi] the Government of the State of Madras, acting under the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 1908, issued a notiﬁcation, and dated 10th March, 1950, declaring the Society an unlawful association. The notiﬁcation stated:
Whereas in the opinion of the State Government the Association has for its object interference with the administration of law and the maintenance of law and order, and constitutes a danger to the public order.
The notiﬁcation was not served; and the Secretary of the Society or any other persons associated with that body which was not given any opportunity of warning before the order was passed. Gazette publication of the notiﬁcation the office of the Society was searched articles lying therein was seized and its funds forfeited. The membership of the Society was made an offence.
The Society could, if it liked, make a representation against the action taken and then the government could make a reference to an advisory board. There was no provision for any inquiry or hearing before the passing of the order. The Secretary of Society challenged the order alleging that it denied him the freedom of association under Articles 19(1) (c) and 19(4); and contended that the Act and the order were void for putting unreasonable restrictions on the freedom.
The Supreme Court, as did the Madras High Court, declared the impugned statutory provision, and with it the notification under Articles 19(1)(c) and 19(1)(4). CJ. Sastri observed, “….the vesting of authority in the executive Government to impose restrictions without allowing grounds of such imposition, both in their factual and legal aspects, to be tested in a judicial inquiry, is a strong element which ….must be taken into account in judging the reasonableness of the restrictions….on the exercise of the fundamental right ….no summary and what is bound to be a largely one sided review by an advisory board even where its verdict is binding on the Executive government can be substituted for a judicial inquiry[xvii]. The formula of subjective satisfaction of the absence of the statutory procedure in accordance with “due process‟, adherence to rules of natural justice is simply unavoidable.
Thus, subsequently, such rule is being followed by the judiciary and the quasi-judiciary bodies alone with the administrative bodies. Apart from the above cases, there are various cases in India by which the principles of natural justice have been enforced.
So, in the Indian scenario, the rules of natural justice should be followed. The non-observance of the rules of natural justice is itself prejudice to any man; and proof of prejudice independently of proof of denial of natural justice is unnecessary. The parameter of natural justice in any particular case must depend upon the nature of right affected, scheme and policy of the given statute, circumstances of the case as also the nature of power of jurisdiction of the administrative authority.
In a nutshell, it can be seen that earlier the principles of natural justice were applied to courts of law only but later on it has extended, to the tribunals exercising quasi- judicial functions and then to the statutory authorities and the administrative authorities, who have upon them, the responsibility of determining the rights, liberties and obligations of the people.
In normal conditions, an action or a decision, judicial, quasi-judicial or administrative, is affecting the rights of an individual is unthinkable. Currently, there can be no process without affording both the parties a chance of fair hearing before an impartial, rational judge. This is necessary for a society, which is governed by rule of law; and the principles of natural justice promote the notion of the rule of law. The principles of natural justice are great humanizing tools with endows law with fairness and secure justice to prevent miscarriage of justice.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Are there any exceptions to the principles of natural justice?
The requirements of procedural fairness are on first appearance applicable to Judicial, Quasi-Judicial and Administrative Proceedings, however, the decision maker may be exempt from all or some of the procedural safeguards that would otherwise be required. Several factors may be identified as capable of excluding the normal procedural fairness requirements in Common Law Courts are:
- Exclusion in case of emergency
- Express statutory exclusion
- Where disclosure or open proceedings would prejudicial to public interests
- Where prompt action is needed
- Where it’s impracticable to hold hearing or appeal
- Exclusion in case of purely administrative matters
- Procedural defect has no bearing on the outcome
- Nobody’s rights have been infringed
- Exclusion on the ground of no fault decision maker
2. Are the principles of justice followed across all legal systems the same?
Principles on natural justice are those fundamental universal principles which have the same meaning and effect across the entire world. It is this universality that makes these principles the yardstick to measure the merits of various legal systems.
3. How are natural justice and procedural fairness related to each other?
Principles of natural justice are the touchstone for analysing procedural fairness. It is on the basis of these principles that proceedings- judicial, administrative, quasi-judicial or otherwise are ensured to be conducted in all fairness. It is on the basis of this doctrine that all the parties involved on the proceeding ensured to have a fair proceeding before an unbiased, neutral adjudicating authority.
4. Are principles of natural justice specifically enshrined in the constitution?
No, there is no separate provision for principles of natural justice or their application under the Constitution or under any other statute. This is owing to the universal natural and fundamental applicability that no express provisions are required. However in case any exceptions to the principles have to be laid down then the same can only be done in exceptional circumstances or when it has been specifically provided via a statutory provisions.
Edited by Shikhar Shrivastava
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje
[iii] Manohar v. State of Maharashtra, (2012) 13 SCC 14
[iv] Kesar Enterprises Ltd v State of UP Civ Misc WP No 606/2000
[v] M.P. Jain, “Evolving Indian Administrative Law”, pp. 78.
[vi] Prof. U.P.D. Kesari & Dr. Aditya Kesari, “LECTURES ON ADMINISTRATIVE LAW”, Twentieth Edition, 2014, p. 178.
[vii] 1852 3 HLR 759.
[viii] 1957 AIR 425
[ix] AIR 1967 SC 408
[x] Union of India v. T.R. Verma 1957 AIR 882
[xi] 1998 (47) DRJ 410
[xii] Appeal (civil) 344 of 1957
[xiii] Calcutta  3 SCR 135
[xiv] A.K. Kraipak & Ors. Etc vs Union Of India & Ors on 29 April, 1969 SC 150
[xv] Maneka Gandhi vs Union Of India on 25 January, 1978 AIR 597
[xvi] State of Madras v V G Row 1952 AIR 196
[xvii] State of Madras v V G Row 1952 AIR 196