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A Comprehensive Analysis Of Principles Of Natural Justice Through Case Laws In Administrative Law

Principles of Natural Justice is derived from the 'Jus Natural'. It is a law of nature which consists of common law and moral principles therefore is not codified. It provides to make a sensible and reasonable decision making on any issue. Basically, natural justice consists of 3 rules:
  • Hearing rule:
    This rule states that the affected party must be given an opportunity to express his point of defense and be heard.
  • Bias rule:
    This rule states that any decision given should be fair and free from bias.
  • Reasoned Decision:
    This rule states that decision of the court must be given based on a valid and reasonable ground.

Principles of natural justice in administrative law:
Natural justice is the very keel of administrative law, for it helps in making decisions that are not only fair and equitable but also just. It is primarily concerned with the protection of individuals against arbitrary and biased decisions by administrative bodies. The two main principles of natural justice have been:
Nemo Judex in Causa Sua-Rule Against Bias:
  • It means "no one should be a judge in their own cause". Viz, the decision maker is not only impartial; he has no personal interest in outcome of his decision. Any allegation of bias whether actual or perceived Going to defeat a person's eligibility to decide any matter. Bias may occur in many forms:
    • Personal Bias: Resulting from personal relationship or enmity.
    • Pecuniary Bias: Financial interest in outcome.
    • Subject-Matter Bias: Prejudgment or preconceived opinions on the matter.
Audi Alteram Partem (Rule of Fair Hearing):
  • This means "hear the other side" or "no one should be condemned unheard". It means everyone affected by a decision should have a fair chance to present their case. The key elements of this principle are:
    • Notice: Individuals must be informed of the case against them and the evidence used.
    • Hearing: The parties to this case should have an opportunity to argue the case by presenting relevant evidence and arguments.
    • Representation: A right to be represented by a Lawyer or other representatives, especially on complex cases.
    • Cross-Examination: The right to cross-examine witnesses and challenge evidence.
Reasoned Decision:
  • A decision shall be based upon reason and not on whim. It means to provide an express statement of the decision and the reasons, transparency, and accountability. The key considerations are as follows:
    • Findings on Material Issues: The decision must deal with and decide all issues that arise from a hearing.
    • Logical Connection: There must be found a logical connection between the evidence and the conclusions therefrom.
    • Clarity and Coherence: The reasons for judgment have to be clearly spelt out and as far as possible, concisely stated.
Rule of Evidence:
  • This means that decisions should be based on evidence presented during the proceedings. Evidence must be relevant, reliable and substantial. It also means the decision maker should consider all the evidence impartially.
No Pre-Determined Decision:
  • Illegitimate expectations of DMs respecting the decision-making process, that must be open-minded and not pre-determined. The decision maker need not have constituted his mind before the case is heard.

Application in administrative law
In administrative law, these principles are applied to ensure that administrative bodies like tribunals and regulatory authorities act fairly and justly. This includes:
  • Judicial Review: Courts may review administrative decisions for compliance with the principles of natural justice.
  • Administrative Procedures: Most of the administrative bodies are required to adopt certain procedures which embody these principles.
  • Statutory Provisions: Various statutes provide that administrative bodies must act in conformity with the principles of natural justice while conducting administrative adjudication.
The principles of natural justice thus constitute the backbone of a fair administrative adjudicatory process and safeguard the rights of persons from administrative injustice. Case laws:
  • Kesav Mills Ltd. v UOI[1]:
    In this case, Kesav Mills was aggrieved by the action of the executive bodies for not providing the opportunity to be heard based on the report of the inquiry. The parties have the right to receive the report of the investigating committee. After submitting the report, the Central Government took over control of the company based on this report. The Hon'ble court held that the principle of natural justice cannot be applied here as it depends on the circumstances of each case. Here, by the action of the government, there was no prejudice caused to the company and the government has acted reasonably and fairly.
  • UOI v Narendra Singh[2]:
    In this case, a government company decided to give a promotion to Mr. A. But after looking into the facts & circumstances, they realised that it was Mr. B, who was the actual person entitled to get the promotion. So, the company revoked the promotion of Mr. A & promoted Mr. B. There was no notice provided to Mr. A as to the revocation of the promotion. The Hon'ble Court held that Mr. A should have been given a notice as to the mistake done by the Government with the proper reason and justification for the revocation of the promotion. Here, they violated the principles of natural justice of the right to notice.
  • State Bank of Patiala v SK Sharma[3]:
    In this case, an employee was dismissed from his position. The dismissal was based on an enquiry conducted by a special committee setup for this purpose. He claimed that her opportunity to be heard was not given to you. The employee was unable to prove that the report was wrong. And there was no opportunity given to him to be heard. Later, it was revealed that the report was given only half an hour before the hearing. In this case, the question was whether he was given a reasonable opportunity to be heard. The Hon'ble court held that, the opportunity to be heard given must be just, fair and reasonable. Here, half an hour was not reasonable time given to the employee. Also, he was denied his right of knowing the evidence against him which was indeed violation of types of natural justice.
  • AK Kraipak v UOI[4]:
    The Appellant was a part of State Forest Service Department as acting Chief Conservator of Forests. Selection was happening for Indian Forest Services (IFS). He was a member of selection board for the state services. He was also appearing as a candidate for IFS. The Honn'ble court held the decision unconstitutional because it was contrary to the principle of natural justice as there is personal bias on 2 grounds, i.e:
    1. Already he is a part of the board of the selection committee
    2. The other members also can have a personal bias
  • J Mahapatra v State of Orrisa[5]:
    In this case, The government decided to decide textbooks for the next curriculum the school. They appointed as special selection committee for this purpose. The selection committee chose the books for the curriculum. Some of the members of the selection committee were also the authors of few selected books. The Hon'ble court held that the selection committee members may have a pecuniary bias towards the selection and therefore violated the principles of natural justice. The Hon'ble court also struck down the order of selection.
  • Gullapalli Nageswara Rao v APSRTC[6]:
    In this case, the Andhra Pradesh Government wanted to nationalize state transport. This decision was challenged. Therefore, a committee was setup to review the decision headed by the secretary of APSRTC. But the secretary was the one who suggested the idea of nationalisation. It was held by the Hon'ble court that there is a likelihood of bias on subject matter which is against the principles of natural justice and therefore the secretary should not head the committee.
  • State of West Bengal v S.Pathak[7]:
    The government company decided to promote some of its employees. It was contended that the promotions were arbitrarily given without any proper explanation. The other employees challenged this decision. The Hon'ble lower court upheld the promotions of the employees. The employees appealed the decision in the Calcutta High Court. The Same judge was sitting in the bench for the appeal and rejected the same. This is violation of principles of natural justice as it was bias on obstinacy.
Exceptions to principles of natural justice
  1. Expressly provided under the Act:
    Example: Article 311(2) of the constitution provides that there is no need to provide the opportunity to be heard in case of the officer is charged for a criminal offence or has done something as a threat to national security.
  2. Implicitly provided under an act:
    Example: Under Section 3 of Foreigners Act empowers the central government to pass orders for foreigners. The central government has the authority to order any foreigner who has violated the visa guidelines or the provisions of the act without being given the opportunity to be heard. Also, Article 19(1) of the constitution is a fundamental right available only to the citizens of India.
    The Hon'ble Supreme court in the case of S.Sonowal v UOI[8] upheld the validity of Section 3 of the Foreigners Act.
  3. Impractical to follow:
    Example: Bihar School Exam Board v Subash Chandra[9]
    Board Examination was conducted in the State of Bihar. Many Students copied and everyone high scores. The malpractice was found out and the exam was ordered to be re-conducted. 2 students appealed the decision contending that they did not copy and an enquiry should be conducted on who copied during the exam. Based on the enquiry, re-exam should be held only for those students.
    The Hon'ble court held that it is impractical to conduct such enquiry and therefore the decision of re-exam was upheld.
  4. It is just a mere formality to follow the principles of natural justice:
    When it is just a mere formality to follow but it does not make a difference whether it is followed or not followed.
  5. It is a necessity to follow the principles of natural justice:
    In the case of ADM Jabalpur v Shivkant Shukla[10],it was held by the Hon'ble Court that necessary and prompt action must be taken in case of emergency.
    In the case of Maneka Gandhi v UOI[11], the Hon'ble court held that it was principles of natural justice is a facet of Article 14. But in case of necessity, it need not be followed.
  6. When confidentiality needs to be maintained by the state:
    Example: Kamil Siedczynski v UOI[12]
    During CAA protest during pandemic, a foreigner student (political science) was a part of this protest. A report was prepared by a government servant where the foreigner student's name was also mentioned. The government decided to ask him to leave the country. The Hon'ble court held that the name of the investigator need not be revealed, and the principles of natural justice need not be followed here as Article 19(1) is not a fundamental right available to a foreigner.
As he is a political science student, he has the right of personal liberty to form a political opinion under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

The principle of natural justice plays a crucial role in the justice system. Following these principles is always necessary. But in case of rare and exceptional circumstances, it need not be followed. The Principles of Natural justice ensures fairness and equity during the proceedings. Every administrative authority must follow the principles while acting as a quasi-judicial body.

In India, the concept of principles of natural justice was introduced in the early times. In the case of Mohinder Singh Gill vs. Chief Election Commissioner[13], the Hon'ble court held that the concept of fairness and equity should be ensured in every action of an authority whether it is quasi-judicial, judicial, quasi-administrative and/or administrative work.

  1. 1973 AIR 389
  2. 1973 SCR (3) 22
  3. Appeal (civil) 5865 of 2007
  4. 1996 AIR 1669
  5. AIR 1970 SUPREME COURT 150
  6. 1984 AIR 1572
  7. 1959 AIR 308
  8. AIR 1998 SUPREME COURT 2050
  9. AIR 2005 SUPREME COURT 2920
  10. 1970 AIR 1269
  11. 1976 AIR 1207
  12. 1978 AIR 597
  13. 4432(W) of 2020
  14. 1978 AIR 851

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Sruthi V
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