PRINCIPLES OF NATURAL JUSTICE : AN OVERVIEW

    The principle of natural justice has been a recognized legal principle since the time of Aristotle. In Nicomachean Ethics Book 5, Chapter 7, Aristotle introduces the topic of natural justice. [1] It also finds reference in the Arthashashtra, a commentary on statesmanship by Chanakya.

    However, this principle is not very concretely defined by any of the jurists and largely remains a jus non scriptum, i.e. unwritten law. With the passage of time, some principles have evolved and crystallized which are well-recognized principles of natural justice. [2]

    In most simpler terms, natural justice can be understood as a principle of some fundamental rules that are responsible for the governance of the adjudicatory functions in the Anglo-American tradition. Viscount Haldane, in the case of Local Government Board v. Arlidge [3], observed that “…those whose duty it Is to decide must act Judicially. They must deal with the question referred to them without bias and they must give each of the parties the opportunity of adequately presenting the case made. The decision must come to the spirit and with the sense of responsibility of a tribunal whose duty it is to meet out justice”.

    RULES OF NATURAL JUSTICE

    As it is already mentioned that the principle of natural justice has not been very tangibly, however, some rules have been crystallized as a part of natural justice over time. These are –

    1. The rule against Bias,
    2. The Right to a Fair Hearing.

    THE RULE AGAINST BIAS AS A PRINCIPLE OF NATURAL JUSTICE

    This rule of the principle of Natural Justice traces its roots to the Latin maxim Nemo Judex in causa sua, which means, ‘No one can be a Judge in their own case’. In simpler terms, this maxim means that the adjudicating authorities, in any case, should be impartial and mustn’t carry any bias against or towards any of the parties. Thus, a Judge should not have any vested interests in the case he/she is adjudicating.

    Another very integral part of this rule is that justice should be made manifest. As Lord Chief Justice Hewart once remarked, “Justice shouldn’t only be done, but manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done”. [4]

    Although ‘bias’ means a pre-determined inclination towards any one of the parties, it can be of various types, such as-

    1. Personal Bias,
    2. Pecuniary Bias,
    3. Bias of Subject-matter,
    4. Departmental Bias,
    5. Bias of Preconceived Notions

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    PERSONAL BIAS

    Personal Biases in any matter arises out of the intimate or personal relations of the adjudicating authority with one of the parties. Such intimate or personal relations may include families, friendships, relationships, professional or business associations.

    Sometimes the extent of the personal bias can be very expansive. Not only direct relation with the parties but mere acquaintance with the advocate or counsel of any of the parties may cause apprehensions of bias and may subject to personal bias.

    This concept has been lucidly discussed in a plethora of judgments by the courts in India.

    In the case of AK Kraipak v. Union of India, one Naquishbund, who was a member of the selection board for the selection regarding All India Cadre of Forest Services and was acting

    Chief Conservator of Forests and also a potential candidate in the selection process. Although the person didn’t take part in the discussion and selection process of the board, when his name was considered and approved, it was challenged in the court. The Supreme Court of India held that “there was a real likelihood of bias for the mere presence of the candidate on the selection board may adversely influence the judgment of the other members”. [5] 

    In another case of Mineral Development Limited v. State of Bihar, In this case, the petitioner company was owned by Raja Kamakshya Narain Singh. The petitioner was granted a mining license for 99 years. The license was cancelled by the minister of revenue acting under Bihar Mica Act. Raja Kamakshya Narain Singh, the owner of the company had opposed the minister and filed a criminal case under section 500 of the Indian Penal code. The case was political rivalry between the minister and Raja Kamakshya Narain Singh. The cancellation order was set aside on the ground of personal bias.

    PECUNIARY BIAS

    As pretty much clear from the name itself, this kind of bias is said to be done where there are some vested economic or monetary interests on the part of the adjudicating authority. When it is highly probable that the adjudicating authority is going to gain monetarily in some way or other, it is likely that they will try to decide the case in such a particular matter so as to make a gain or avoid a loss.

    Deciding upon a similar issue, the Supreme Court of India in J. Mohapatra & Co v. State of Orissa, nullified the decision of the State Text Book Committee on the ground that some of the members of the committee were also the authors of the books in consideration before the Selection Committee. [7]

    However, there must be an apparent nexus between the matter in consideration and its relation with the adjudicating authority. The effect must be very intimate to the cause. Following this same principle in the case of R. v. Mulvihill, it was held that merely because the Judge who was having some amount of shares vested in the robbed bank, he can’t be said to be pecuniary biased. [8]

    BIAS OF SUBJECT MATTER

    When the deciding authority is interested directly or indirectly in the subject-matter of the case under consideration, then the bias of subject matter arises. For example, if the adjudicating authorities themselves are a member of some Child Rights Society and then a case comes up involving the Child Rights, then there may be an apprehension of bias in the mind of one of the parties.

    In the case of Gullampally Nageswara Rao v. A.P.S.R.T.C, the government of the day had proposed to nationalize the public motor transport. Now, the objections against this were first put before the government secretary, nevertheless, he rejected the objections. In this case, it was contended by the petitioners that the decision of rejecting the objection was a biased one as it was the secretary himself who had initiated this whole process. The Apex Court held the secretary’s action invalid. [9]

    However, the bias of subject matter has always been an issue of great academic debate, as there is none of a person who doesn’t have some ideological preferences or leaning and this kind of bias precisely attacks that only. If this rule was to be followed strictly, Justice P.N Bhagwati and Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer would have been disqualified all the time they would have rendered pro-environment and pro-labor judgments, respectively.

    DEPARTMENTAL BIAS

    In any case, if the adjudicating authority belongs to the same department as one or many of the parties, then they will try to protect the parties associated with their department. 

    Eg. In a case related to Income tax, one of the parties will be belonging to the department against whom the other party/parties may make an allegation that the concerned department has charged an amount which the aggrieved party is not liable to pay. If the adjudicating authority accepts this contention, there will be a loss of revenue to the Income-tax department. In such cases, if the authority intentionally and wrongly sides with his department, then it is said to be acted under the influence of a Departmental Bias. 

    An externment order of the Police Dept. was put into a challenge in the case of Hari v. DCP, Bombay. [10] It was challenged on the ground that since the initiating authority and the adjudicatory authority were the same in this case, there was an apprehension of departmental bias. Nevertheless, the Court rejected the challenge on the ground that as long as two functions (initiation and decision) were discharged by two separate officers, no matter that they were affiliated to the same department, there was no bias.  

    BIAS OF PRECONCEIVED NOTION

    Deciding authority being a human being will be having their own prejudices and preconceived notions which are the outcome of his background. So depending on the family & cultural background, etc. every person has got his own notion. We cannot expect a deciding authority to decide a case with a blank mind Therefore, this type of bias is also unavoidable. [11]

    In the case of Franklin v. Minister of Town and Country Planning, [12] the Stevenage New Town Designation Order, 1946 was challenged on the ground that during the public hearing on the concerned matter of town-planning, the minister made a remark that he wants to carry out a daring exercise in town planning. The gathering shouted its opposition to this. On this, the minister said that it is no good your jeering. It is going to be done, anyway.” Hence, it was contended that the hearing was done with a preconceived mind. The minister had such a strong conviction that his mind was closed. However, the court dismissed the case on technical grounds.

    EXCEPTION TO THE RULE AGAINST BIAS

    When bias is provided, it disqualifies the biased adjudicator and another adjudicator should replace him. However, the Indian courts have not expressly adopted it, the doctrine of necessity has been impliedly observed in several cases. In contempt of court cases, this rule is not followed strictly. 

    RIGHT OF FAIR HEARING AS A PRINCIPLE OF NATURAL JUSTICE

    Just like the Rule against Bias, the Right of Fair Hearing also traces its history down to a latin maxim, i.e. audi alteram partem, which means to hear both sides. This is the utmost important principle of justice, as without hearing both the sides, no adjudicating authority can reach a reasoned and logical decision.

    The Right of Fair Hearing is centuries old and has historically sought to ensure that individuals who will be affected by a decision are able to make informed representations to the decision-maker in advance of the decision being taken. [13]

    There are two important components of Right of Fair Hearing, namely –

    1. Notice
    2. Hearing

    NOTICE

    This is a duty of the adjudicating authority to give a notice to the person before taking any action against them. The notice must be reasonable and must contain the time, place, nature of hearing and other relevant information. If the notice is vaguely drafted and is not particular, then all subsequent proceedings would be debauched.

    In the case of State of J&K v. Haji Wali Mohammed, [14] the court quashed a notice which gave only 24 hours to demolish a building giving reasons that 24 hours time was very less than fair.

    In another leading case upon this subject, Board of High School v. Kumari Chitra, the petitioner appeared for the examination, however, the board, without giving a notice cancelled her examination on the ground of the shortage of attendance. She was not given an opportunity of being heard. It was contended on behalf of the board that giving a show cause notice would not have served the purpose of shortage of attendance. The Apex Court rejected the contention of the board and held that the action of the board was violation of principle of natural justice. [15]

    HEARING

    Fair hearing means that a person against whom the order is passed must be informed of the charges against him, be given an opportunity to submit his explanation thereto, have a right to know the evidence, etc. It is a code of procedure, which has no definite content and varies with the circumstances of a case.

    A hearing will be considered a fair hearing only if the following conditions are satisfied:

    1. Adjudicating authority receives all the relevant material produced by the individual.
    2. The adjudicating authority discloses the individual concerned evidence or material which they wish to reproduce against him. 
    3. The adjudicating authority provides the individual concerned an opportunity to rebut the evidence or material which are to be used against the individual. 

    There are various cases establishing the Right of Fair Hearing. In the case of Dhakeshwari Cotton Mills Ltd v. CIT, [16] the Apex Court vitiated a decision of the CIT, on the grounds that it was passed without allowing the assessee to present the material evidence.

    However, in the case of State of Maharashtra vs. Salem Hasan Khan, [17] the Supreme Court held that in a case involving a person of bad character, evidence need not to be presented and discussed as it may involve endangering the life & property of the witness.

    CONCLUSION

    The principles of natural justice have been followed by the Indian judiciary to protect public rights against the arbitrary and unjust decision by the judicial and administrative authorities. In a welfare state like India, the responsibility of administrative and judicial agencies is escalating at a rapid pace and with rapid growth of state liability and civic needs of the people. Under Article 14 & Article 21 of the Constitution of India, the articles firmly deal with the principles of natural justice. The violation of principles of natural justice shall result in arbitrariness; therefore, violation of natural justice is also a violation of Right to Equality under Article 14. Natural Justice has its foundation on good conscience and human values that follows a fair procedure. If the state doesn’t discharge its function in a just and fair manner the Rule of Law would lose its validity. [18]

    REFERENCES

    [1] Peter Simpson, “Aristotle on Natural Justice” 3 Studia Gilsoniana 367 (2014).

    [2] Justice Brijesh Kumar, “Principles of Natural Justice” 3 J.T.R.I. Journal  (July – September 1995).

    [3] (1915) AC 120 (138) HL.

    [4] Rex v. Sussex Justices, [1924] 1 KB 256.

    [5] AIR 1970 SC 150.

    [7] AIR 1984 SC 1572.

    [8] [1990] 1 WLR 438.

    [9] AIR 1959 SC 308.

    [10] 1956 SCR 506.

    [11] G.M. Wagh, Administrative law RLLC 72 (2003).

    [12] (1947)2 All ER 289 (HL).

    [13] Baggs Case (1615) 11 Co Rep 93b.  

    [14] 1972 AIR 2538.

    [15] AIR 1970 SC 1039.

    [16] (1955) 027 ITR 0126.

    [17] 1989 (1) Scale 700.

    [18] Siddharth R. & Prof. Dr. A. Sreelatha, “Principles of Natural Justice and its Application in the Indian Legal System” 120 5 International Journal of Pure & Applied Mathematics 1678 (2018).


    BY DHRUV VATSYAYAN | FACULTY OF LAW, BHU

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