Natural Justice under Indian Laws
“Natural justice is a compact resulting from expediency by which men seek to prevent one man from injuring others and to protect him from being injured by them.”
The Principle of Natural Justice or Rule of Bias prevails in the arena of law. While working in the field of law and justice the basic requisite is the reasonableness of the procedure and the judgement made. Here comes the principle of natural justice or rule of bias in picture. The term ‘Natural Justice’ is a derivative of the term ‘Jus Naturale’ and the term ‘Lex Naturale’. These words mean ‘law of nature’. The principle of Natural justice is neither derived from any statue nor from any constitution or judgement. It emanated from the law of nature. It is not a codified law and does not have any particular application it just states that the person making the decision should use and apply all reasonable measures while judging the case and be impartial so that there is no bias and every party gets a chance to put forth their point which would eventually lead to proper justice and this is the law of nature. Natural justice can be equated with fairness, equality and equity but at the same point these cannot be called the ultimate essence of the principle. The principle is said to be a derivative of Roman Laws, English Laws and traces of it are found in Arthashastra which is a book on Indian statecraft by Kautilya.
Meaning of Natural Justice
“Natural justice is a sense of what is wrong and what is right.”
There is no exact definition or explanation for natural justice. This principle has evolved from the laws on nature and revolves around them. It is an old concept but it has expanded its scope of application and still it is expanding and evolving with the society . The principle of natural justice ensures that justice is meted out to all and not only to one of the parties in a judicial proceeding. Justice for one shouldn’t jeopardize it for another. The righteousness of the law lies in maximizing the beneficiaries and decreasing the disadvantaged. This principle governs on three basic postulates that are –
Hearing rule- Person or party who is affected by the decision made should be given a fair opportunity to express his point of view to defend himself.
Bias rule– The judge should be biased while making the decision. The decision should be given in a free and fair manner.
Reasoned Decision- Judgement of the court given by the Presiding authorities should necessarily have a valid and reasonable ground.
Pillars of Natural Justice
The Principle of Natural Justice has two rules as its pillars on which it stands in law. The three rules are-
- Nemo Judex In Causa Sua or Rule Against Bias
- Audi Alteram Partem
Nemo Judex In Causa Sua or Rule Against Bias
First pillar of the principle of Natural Justice is the Rule Against Bias which is derived from the maxim “Nemo Judex In Causa Sua” which says that “No one can be a judge on his own case”. This rule states that the person who is acting as a judge 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–
“The reason 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.”
Bias can be of three kinds-
- Pecuniary Bias
- Personal Bias
- Bias as to subject matter
Pecuniary Bias is the bias due to financial benefit. If the judicial body or the authority who is deciding the case, in any form avails financial benefit irrespective of how much it is, can cause bias in the mind of the deciding body for the person offering that financial benefit.
N.B. Jeejeebhoy v. Assistant Collector Thane –Chief Justice reconstituted the bench when it was found that one of the members of the bench was a member of cooperative society for which the land had been acquired.
Personal bias arises from the relation between the party involved in the case and the person deciding the case. This bias can influence the entire judgement made by the judicial body and can cause severe injustice to the other party. Personal Bias can arise due to the following reasons-
- The presiding officer or judicial body has formed a notion before the completion of the proceeding;
- The presiding officer or judicial body is interested in one of the parties either directly as a party or indirectly as being related to one of the parties.
Mineral Development Corporation limited vs State of Bihar – In the year 1947 the petitioner was granted mining lease for 99 years. In 1953, the Secretary of revenue board issued a show cause notice to the petitioners to show cause within 15 days as to why the license should not be cancelled for violation by the petitioner of section 10, 12 and 14 of Mining Act. The petitioner then submitted a written reply denying all the allegations. However, two years later, the government quashed the license. The petitioner brought an action against the minister passing this order on the behalf of the government, on the ground that the petitioner in 1952 opposed the minister in the general election. Therefore, on the account of political rivalry, the minister passed such an order, and hence order suffered from personal bias. The Supreme Court found the allegation to be true and thus quashed the said order.
Bias as to subject matter
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. The judge may have inclination towards a party due the bias caused in his mind because of the subject matter which might have relation with him in one or other way. This bias may cause grievous harm to the judicial proceeding.
Andhra Scientific Co. Ltd. v. Sheshagiri Rao and Anr- General Manager of a factory conducted an inquiry against some workmen. At a later stage the Managing Director took over the inquiry in the matter, when it became necessary to examine the General Manager as a witness and took the charge to decide 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.
Audi Alteram Partem
Second pillar of the principle of Natural Justice is the Rule of Hearing which is derived from the maxim “Audi Alteram Partem” which means that “no one should be condemned unheard” or “hear the other side”. The principle forbids ex parte decisions. 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. The application of this rule is wide and not confined to judicial process only. It covers all quasi-judicial functions and to certain extent even the administrative acts.
Audi Alteram Partem can be of two kinds-
The deciding authority should issue a proper and valid notice to the party before taking any action against him. The notice should contain all the essential details and reasonable grounds for taking that action. A vague or unambiguous notice may render the entire proceeding invalid.
K.A Abdul Khader vs Dy. Director – The Statutory Rule prescribed the following mode to serve notice:
- By delivering to him or
- Sending it to him by post
- In case of non fulfilment of above two prescriptions then by affixing it in the outer door of residence
The party or the person should be given a proper and reasonable chance to present his case. He should be informed about the charges framed against him; he should be given an opportunity to submit his explanation thereto; he should have a right to know the evidences presented, both oral and documentary; he should be told the grounds on which the matter is to be decided; should have the right to get witnesses examined in his presence; should have the right to cross examine the witnesses; and to lead his own evidence both oral and documentary in his defence.
Mahadayal PremChandra v. Commercial Tax Officer hen 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.
Purpose of the Principle of Natural Justice
The principle of Natural Justice serves many very important purposes in the judicial system. Few of them are-
- To ensure the fairness of the judicial proceeding.
- To make sure that no one is left unheard.
- To protect and guard fundamental rights.
- To avoid miscarrige of justice.
- To make people trust more on the judicial and decision making system.
- To deliver unbiased decisions that are in coherence with equity, justice and good conscience.
Kesar Enterprises Ltd v State of UP – 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.
Exceptions to the principle of Natural Justice
The Principle of Natural Justice is universal in law and applies to almost every situation. However, it’s not absolute and is subject to some exceptions. Those exceptions are listed below-
- Where a provision for exclusion is made by a statue.
- Where such exemption or practice is in the interest of the general public.
- Where the case is of confidential nature.
- Where there is a situation of emergency or necessity.
- Where no right of an individual has been infringed.
- Where the case is of academic evaluation.
Development of the principle of Natural Justice in India
The principle of Natural Justice is found to be a very essential part of all the judicial, quasi-judicial and administrative processes in India. However, this principle is nowhere expressly mentioned. The rules are not prescribed by any code, statute or authority. The principal is a very important component of administrative activities. It ensures that the entire process is free and prevents miscarriage of justice.
The implementation of these rules depend upon the discretion of the courts. It is the presiding authority who decides the extent of implication of Natural Justice and are morally duty bound to apply them. In Indian scenario there are many cases in which the principle of Natural Justice has been applied. Some of them are-
Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India – The petitioner got a passport issued on June 1, 1976 under the Passport Act, 1967. The same was seized by the government of India under Section 10(3)(c) of the Passport Act, 1967 ‘in public interest’. She was told to surrender the same within 7 days from the receipt of the letter. She wrote a letter to the Regional Passport Officer to furnish her copy of the statement of reasons for issuing the order. The officer refused to provide the copy of statement on the grounds of public good. Aggrieved by it, she filed a writ petition challenging the act of the Passport authorities, and the validity of Section 10(3)(c) on the grounds that it was violative of Article 14, 19(1) (a), 19(1) (g) and 21.
The Supreme Court ruled 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 citizens 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 risen to the status of distinct fundamental rights and have given additional protection under Article 19. Section 10(3) of the Passport Act, 1967 was in violation of Article 21 since it did not prescribe ‘procedure’ within the meaning of Article 21. Section 10(3)(c) of the Passport Act, 1967 was in violation of Articles 19(1)(a) and 19(1) (g) since it imposed reasonable restrictions.
Also, the Passport authority did not follow the principles of 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. 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-judicial bodies alone with the administrative bodies.
- K. Yadav v. JMA Industries – The Supreme Court held that even when managements have the statutory standing powers to terminate the services of employees who overstayed the leave period, it will be a violation to Article 21 of Constitution to do so without hearing the plea of employees since it will deprive the person of his livelihood and hence cannot be just, fair and reasonable. Therefore, it is a complete violation of the principle of Natural Justice.
Central Inland Water Corporation Ltd. v. Brojo Nath – Supreme court held that Service Rules empowering the Government Corporation to terminate services of permanent employees without giving reasons on three months notice period or pay in lieu is violative 14 being unconscionable, arbitrary, unreasonable and against public policy as it wholly ignores the rule of ‘audi alteram partem’. The principle of Natural Justice is implicit in Article 14 of the Constitution.
Delhi Transport Corporation v. D.T.C. Mazdoor Congress – The Supreme Court held Regulation 9(b) of the Delhi Transport Authority (Conditions of appointment and Service) Regulations, 1952 as violative of Article 14 as unconstitutional being arbitrary and unreasonable and violative of principle of Natural Justice.
Natural Justice under the Constitution
The Constitution of India which stands as s guardian of our fundamental rights nowhere talks about the principle of natural justice in its express provisions. But the principle is implicit in the Constitution under Article 14 and Article 21. The courts have delivered many judgements implying the same. Few of them are- Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, Delhi Transport Corporation v. D.T.C. Mazdoor Congress, Andhra Scientific Co. Ltd. v. Sheshagiri Rao and Anr and many more.
Natural Justice under the Administrative Law
This principle is a prominent essential and part of all the administrative activities and processes of the government agencies. Administrative Law in India always works following the two rules of this principle that are ‘Nemo Judex In Causa Sua or Rule Against Bias’ and ‘Audi Alteram Partem’. The deciding authority has to follow the above mentioned rules by not being biased and hearing the other side and in case of violation of the same judiciary comes into the picture to safeguard the rights of the individual.
In a nutshell it can be concluded that the principle of Natural Justice being treated as implied in every judicial, quasi-judicial or administrative proceeding in India is the very essence of the maintenance and delivery of justice. It ensures that no one is left unheard and the deciding authority is completely impartial while deciding the case. Although, it is nowhere mentioned but the principle holds a dominant position in every legal and administrative arena. The judiciary safeguards it and the administration applies it into its activities. For a society which is under the governance of law this principle fosters the rule of law and prevents the miscarriage of justice. Even after being exhaustive in itself the principle of Natural Justice is an ever evolving subject.
 M.P. Jain, “Evolving Indian Administrative Law”, pp. 78
 1965 AIR 1096, 1965 SCR (1) 636
 1960 AIR 468, 1960 SCR (2) 909
 AIR 1967 SC 408, (1961) IILLJ 117 SC
 AIR 1976 Mad 233, (1976) 2 MLJ 78
 Appeal (civil) 344 of 1957
 Civ. Misc. W.P No. 606 of 2000
 1978 AIR 597, 1978 SCR (2) 621
 1993 SCR (3) 930, 1993 SCC (3) 259
 1986 AIR 1571, 1986 SCR (2) 278
 1991 AIR 101, 1990 SCR Supl. (1) 142
Author: Poorva G Chaturvedi,
Modi Law College, Kota