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The Cornerstones Of Fairness: Principles Of Natural Justice

This article delves into the cornerstones of fairness known as the principles of natural justice, examining their historical origins, objects, and rules. Natural justice, not explicitly defined but widely acknowledged, encompasses the Rule Against Bias, Rule of Fair Hearing (Audi Alteram Partem), and Reasoned Decision.

The Rule Against Bias mandates impartiality, while Fair Hearing ensures that parties have an equal chance to present their case. Reasoned Decision requires authorities to explain their rulings transparently. The article explores various types of bias, including pecuniary, personal, subject matter, departmental, and policy notion bias. Additionally, it discusses exceptions to the rules of natural justice and their compatibility with equity.

Justice that is natural requires equity, prudence, fairness, and equality. A tenet of common law is natural justice. Every administrative agency is required to abide by a set of procedural principles known as Natural Justice, which were devised by judges. These ideas, which are not present in the Indian Constitution, are seen as essential to the rule of law. This originates from "jus natural", which stands for the law of nature. When rendering a decision, adherence to these guidelines is required. Ignoring these rules could have a negative impact on an individual's right. It is also known as Substantial Justice or Fundamental Justice or Universal Justice or Fair Play in Action.

To guarantee justice and fairness, natural justice is a crucial component of the legal system. In order to maintain fairness and due process, it is imperative to comprehend the fundamentals of natural justice.

The Rule Against Bias, Rule of Fair Hearing, and Reasoned Decision are the three main concepts that are discussed in this article.

These principles guarantee the neutrality of those making decisions. These principles also guarantee that decisions are made on the basis of logic and that all parties get a chance to state their case.

Natural justice lacks a specific, scientific definition. Nonetheless, natural justice principles are recognised and upheld. Scholars, solicitors, and judges all define it differently. In Barrett v. Vionet, According to Lord Esher M.R., it is the innate sense of right and wrong. In a later decision (Hopkins v. Smethwick Local Board of Health), he had decided to define natural justice as basic justice. Lord Parker defines it as having a duty to act justly. Justice Bhagwati has interpreted it as a case of fair play. The Indian Constitution's Articles 14 and 21 have reinforced the idea of natural justice.

The idea that "no man should be condemned unheard" was one that the Greeks had long before embraced. At that time, the importance of natural justice was emphasised to the point where it was said that "no human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this," and that a court might reject a parliamentary act if it conflicted with natural law. Natural law played a major role in the formation and evolution of equity in England.

The idea of natural justice was recognised by Adam and Kautilya throughout their time. The Bible claims that after Eve and Adam consumed the fruit of knowledge, God forbade them from doing so. Eve was given a fair opportunity to defend herself before the punishment was handed down, and Adam received the same treatment.

The Roman terms "jus-naturale" and "lex-naturale," which laid down the foundation for natural justice, natural law, and equity, are the source of the word "natural justice."

Objects of Natural Justice:
  • To give everyone a fair chance to be heard.
  • The idea of fairness.
  • Filling up the legal loopholes and gaps.
  • To safeguard the fundamental rights.
  • Basic features of the Constitution.
A man has always valued a few fundamental principles that are either natural law or divine law. A man must apply this section of the law to human issues in order to be a reasonable being. Ensuring citizens' fundamental rights and liberties is the main goal of natural justice laws. Thus, they advance the general good. One well-established golden rule is that the goal of the natural justice concept is not only to uphold the rule of law but also to prevent injustice from occurring.

Rules of Natural Justice
These ideas are generally accepted. These ideas are synonymous with both national common law and divine law. Natural justice is regarded as a crucial component of the Indian Constitution. Three natural justice tenets are upheld by the Indian legal system.

Below is a detailed explanation of these principles:
  1. Nemo Judex In Causa Sua (Rule Against Bias)
  2. Audi Alteram Partem (Rule of Fair Hearing)
  3. Reasoned Decision or Speaking Orders

Nemo Judex In Causa Sua (Rule Against Bias)

An operational prejudice, whether conscious or unconscious, towards a party or issue is referred to as bias. As a result, the rule against bias eliminates any variables that can unjustly sway a judge's decision in a given case. This rule stipulates that the judge must be unbiased and render an objective decision based on the available facts or documentation.

Human psychology informs us that humans rarely are able to make decisions that are not in their best interests, therefore in an instance where they have an interest, a person cannot make an objective conclusion. Consequently, the adage reads: "One cannot be made to judge in his own cause."

Because "no man be judge in his own cause" and "justice should not only be done but should manifestly and unquestionably be seen to be done" are both requirements for the application of the disqualification rule, it serves as a safeguard against partial decisions as well as an attempt to maintain public confidence in the impartiality of the administrative adjudicating process. Additionally, according to these principles, judges must be above all reproach.

Types of Bias:
  1. Pecuniary Bias.
  2. Personal Bias.
  3. Subject matter Bias.
  4. Departmental Bias.
  5. Policy notion Bias.

Pecuniary Bias
Pecuniary bias occurs when the arbiter or magistrate has a financial or commercial stake in the issue at hand. The judge should have no financial or commercial interests while making decisions in cases. Put another way, a person is unable to serve as a judge if they have a financial stake in the outcome of the dispute.

Visakhapatnam Co-operative Motor Transport Ltd. v. G. Bangar Raju
In this instance, the district collector�who was also the president of the aforementioned cooperative society�was granted a vehicle permit by the regional transport authority in his capacity as chairman. Due to financial bias, the court invalidated the collector's decision.

Personal Bias
Personal prejudice might originate from close relationships, friendships, businesses, or professional associations. A person in such a relationship is ineligible to serve as a judge. A.K. Kripak v. Union of India is a case that is pertinent to this discussion. Because one of the candidates who appeared before the selection committee was also a member of the selection board, the Supreme Court invalidated the decisions made by the selection board.

It was decided that a reasonable probability of bias was enough to invalidate the admissions process. In other words, prejudice does not have to be proven in order to taint the decision. If it can be demonstrated that there was a plausible chance of prejudice, that is sufficient to render the decision invalid.

Subject Matter Bias
Subject-matter bias (official bias): A judge cannot hear a case if they have any conflicts of interest or prejudice. The adjudicator or judge will be disqualified on the grounds of bias if he has personally associated with the issues in dispute and has a general interest in the topic in dispute due to his affiliation with the administration or a private group. There must be a close and direct relationship between the adjudicator and the contentious issues in order for them to be disqualified on this basis. The current query is whether administrative adjudication can likewise be covered by this approach.

If that's the case, no choice will be impartial. Gullampally Nageswara Rao v. A. P.S.R.T.C. In this instance, nationalising the automobile industry was the government's suggestion. The Secretary of the Government was tasked with considering nationalisation objections, and the Government affirmed the legitimacy of the nationalisation plan. It was contested on the grounds that the aforementioned secretary was the one who started the nationalisation process.

Departmental Bias
In any administrative procedure, departmental bias is a prevalent problem that needs to be properly checked. If it isn't, the concept of fairness will be negatively impacted and will eventually disappear from the proceeding.

Policy Notion Bias
Preconceived policy notion-related issues are a very serious matter. The people seated there do not anticipate that judges will sit down with a blank piece of paper and decide on the case after a fair trial.

Other forms of bias may include religious bias, racial bias, and gender bias. These prejudices are the result of individual thoughts or discriminatory attitudes. They may threaten the fairness of the decision-making process.

Audi Alteram Partem (Rule Of Fair Hearing)
It basically states that no one can be found guilty or punished by the court without first being given a fair chance to be heard. It consists of three Latin words.

Most cases in many jurisdictions go unresolved without being given a fair chance to be heard.

This rule literally means that a fair trial should be held and that each party should be given an equal opportunity to present themselves and any pertinent evidence.

In its most basic version, this crucial natural justice rule states that no one should be punished without a good reason. A person should be informed in advance so that he can get ready and understand all of the charges that are brought against him.

Another name for it is the "rule of fair hearing." The elements of a fair hearing are flexible and adaptable. Case by case and authority by authority, it differs.
  1. Right to notice;
  2. Right to present case and evidence;
  3. Right to rebut adverse evidence;
  4. No evidence should be taken at the back of other party;
  5. Reasoned decision;
  6. Institutional decision or one who decides must hear;
  7. Rule against dictation, the decision must be actually his who decides.

The principle of fair hearing involves the following key components:
  1. Notice: A competent authority must serve notice to the party involved before taking any action. The notice should include charges and case details; if it's incomplete, it's not valid.
  2. Hearing: Both parties should have an equal opportunity for a fair hearing. Decisions without this opportunity are invalid.
  3. Evidence: The authority must consider evidence from both sides equally.
  4. Cross-examination: Parties should be able to cross-examine witnesses when allowed by the applicable law.
  5. Representation: Parties can have legal representation, but it may vary based on the law and case complexity.

Speaking Orders Or Reasoned Decision
In the search for justice, numerous crucial guidelines The verbal commands or reasoned decisions is one such principle. Decisions made by judges and other authorities should be thoroughly and concisely explained. It is critical to the accountability, transparency, and impartiality of the legal system.

Speaking orders require judges to express their reasoning. The statutes that the judges relied on to reach their verdict are also explained. This upholds the natural justice principle.

Choosing logically offers numerous advantages. It aids parties in comprehending how their rights were impacted and whether the ruling was just. They can also contest the outcome if necessary. Reasoned decisions strengthen public confidence in the legal system. It demonstrates that rules and reason�rather than prejudice�are the foundation for judgements.

In essence, it is based on three grounds:
  1. The party who feels wronged has the opportunity to show the appellate and revisional courts why they have the right to reject it.
  2. It is an acceptable portion of the party that the decision is made against.
  3. The duty to document justifications serves as a barrier to the judicial authority granted to:
In the legal system, natural justice is a fundamental principle. They make sure that facts and evidence, not preconceived notions or prejudices, are used to make judgements.

Indian Constitution and Principles of Natural Justice
As was previously established, the term "natural justice" is not used once in the Indian Constitution. Nonetheless, the concept of natural justice is expressed in the following sections of the Constitution in the appropriate ways.

Preamble: "Social, Economic, and Political" justice, freedom of thinking, belief, and religion, as well as equality of opportunity and status.

Article 14: Equal protection of the law for all citizens of India and equality before law;

Article 21: Right to liberty and life;

Article 22: Provision of fair hearing for an arrested person;

Article 39-A: Free legal services for disabled and indignant people;

Article 311: Constitutional protection for civil servants;

Article 32, 136, and 226: Constitutional remedies for violations of fundamental rights.

Exceptions to the Rules of Natural Justice:
  1. Emergency Cases: In exceptional emergencies like protecting depositors or dealing with dangerous situations, fair hearing rules can be excluded.
  2. Dire Public Interest: Fair hearing can be set aside in administrative decisions for greater public interest.
  3. Confidentiality: Fair hearing can be excluded if it compromises national interest or public order due to confidentiality.
  4. Academic Adjudication: Fair hearing may not be necessary in cases of academic performance assessments.
  5. Impracticability: In cases like mass cheating, it's impractical to provide notice and hearing to all involved.
  6. Interim Preventive Action: Rules of natural justice may be excluded for preventive, non-final administrative orders.
  7. Legislative Action: Exclusion is justified when administrative actions have a general, legislative nature.

Equity and the Rules of Natural Justice:
Equity is a form of justice that operates outside of written laws and aims to ensure fairness and justness. It seeks to provide remedies when positive law falls short or when specific cases require unique solutions. It's based on principles of good conscience and giving each person their due based on natural law. The concept of equity encompasses notions of reasonableness, challenging unfair actions, and the principles of natural justice, making it complementary to these ideas rather than contradictory.

Landmark Judgements On Principles Of Natural Justice:
In the case of Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India, the court explicitly stated that Article 14 embodies the principles of natural justice and serves to uphold the concept of equality as guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution.

In Suraj Mall Mohta and Co. v. A. V. Visvanatha Sastri, the Supreme Court ruled that the assessment proceedings conducted by the Income-tax officer are considered judicial proceedings. All the necessary aspects of such judicial proceedings must be followed before arriving at any conclusion. The assessee is entitled to inspect the records and all relevant documents before being called upon to present evidence in rebuttal. This right remains unaffected by any explicit provision within the Income Tax Act.

In the case of Manohar Lal Sharma vs The Principal Secretary & Ors. (2014), it was determined that when allegations are founded on anonymous complaints, the principles of natural justice must be upheld. The court emphasized that the individual accused in such cases should be afforded the chance to present their side and be heard.

The principles of natural justice have been embraced and upheld by the judiciary to safeguard public rights against arbitrary decisions made by administrative authorities. These principles inherently revolve around the concept of fairness, ensuring that fairness prevails throughout the process.

At every stage of a procedure, if any authority strays from its judicial function, the primary goal remains preventing miscarriages of justice. It is of utmost importance to recognize that any decision or order that contravenes the principles of natural justice will be rendered null and void. Therefore, it is crucial to understand that natural justice principles are essential for the validity of any administrative resolution.

The application of the principle of natural justice is not confined by strict boundaries, but rather depends on the jurisdiction granted to the administrative authority and the nature of the individual's affected rights.


Written By: Sakshi Beniwal,
4th Year B.A. LL.B. Student at Lovely Professional University, Phagwara, Punjab, India.

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