PRINCIPLES OF NATURAL JUSTICE: AN ANALYSIS AND OVERVIEW
What are the principles of Natural Justice?
The principles of Natural Justice are the fundamental rules upon which administrative law relies. They originated from the English Common Law system, derived from the term jus naturale. It inculcates common law and morality to form three basic tenets and refers to the natural sense of justice that must be adhered to while deciding cases. Justice Bhagwati has defined these principles as the foundation of fair play and Article 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution also highlight these principles.
The three principles include:
- Nemo Judex in Causa Sua – (Rule Against Bias)
- Audi Alteram Partem – (To hear the other party)
- Reasoned Decision
Nemo Judex in Causa Sua – (Rule Against Bias)
Here, the need and importance of impartial judgment is stressed upon and it is stated that no one should be allowed to judge his/her own case. It also states that there must be no conflict of interest while deciding upon a case therefore avoiding biased judgments. Personal prejudices and grievances must be set aside while judging conflicts and objectivity must be necessarily practiced. There exist four main types of bias:
- Personal bias wherein the judge may have a personal like or dislike towards one of the parties.
- Pecuniary bias where the judge may be financially influenced or lured into passing a judgment that favors one of the parties.
- Subject-matter bias where the judge may have a personal opinion upon a certain subject matter and refuses to reason it out objectively.
- Departmental bias wherein a lower authority may pass a positive or negative judgment through influence of the higher authority.
Audi Alteram Partem – (To hear the other party)
Each party to a conflict must be given a chance to present their story in order to deliver justice fairly. This principle highlights the importance of a fair trial being granted to all the parties of a conflict. All the parties to a suit must be informed of the hearing prior to the same via a notice beforehand and this was upheld in the case of Smt. Ritu Devi v. Commissioner of Income Tax wherein the Court held that one of the parties was not given a fair chance to present her case as there was a shortage of time. This principle also provides citizens the right to a legal representative in a court of law so as to ensure a fair trial to all.
The courts also ensure that all evidence and other necessary material regarding the case is disclosed to both parties.
In the case of Ridge v. Baldwin, the English Court held that the decision of the lower court would be held void as one of the parties was not given a fair hearing.
Since these principles are interlinked with the natural school of law, morality and ethics also come into play. The main aim of this principle is to bring judges and citizens to rationalise any decision they choose to make. Reason is a vital component towards delivering true justice to all parties. For example, in the Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India case, the Court held that impounding the passport without giving prior notice or enunciating a specific reason cannot be deemed as a sound decision. However, the lower Court assured a post-decisional hearing which prevented the case from being interrupted. By reasoning judicial decisions, we can prevent unwarranted abuse of power and fill the loopholes of the legal system.
In Ajantha Industries v. Central Board of Direct Taxes, the court stated that the reasoning behind certain files was not provided to the required person and the reasons for the same were not communicated by any means and so the order given by the lower court was subsequently quashed.
Exemptions to the Principles of Natural Justice
The principles of Natural Justice, although an integral part of the legal system, are not absolute in nature and are subject to exceptions just like the fundamental rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution. Some of these exceptional situations include when:
- Exclusion by statutory provisions – This is when the implementation of the principles of natural justice is hampered or interrupted due to the existence of a statute that prevents its performance.
- Exclusion in public interest – This is a rare exceptional case where, if the principles of natural justice were to be applied, it would cause public harm or grievance rather than delivering fair justice.
- Exclusion in cases of Confidentiality – When certain confidential matters such as militia, international relations and such are concerned, the principles of natural justice may be foregone in the larger interest.
- Exclusion when no right of the person is injured – If when delivering justice, a fair judgment is passed and none of the parties’ rights were violated by the said judgment, the rules of natural justice may be overlooked.
- Exclusion in the case of emergency situations or necessity – When the country is in a state of financial, civil or political crisis, the principles of natural justice may be put away in order to settle the more pressing matters.
- Exclusion on grounds of impracticality – When the judgment that is passed is unreasonable or does not deliver justice in a proper manner, the rules of natural justice may be excluded while revising the said decision.
Just as Natural Law theories concern the relationship between morals and written law, the principles of Natural Justice link morals and the delivery of fair justice to all. These are the basic tenets that every citizen must be aware of and must be entitled to when addressing their conflicts in a court of law. It ensures and enshrines procedural fairness and prevents corruption and foul play. These rules are flexible and can be applied subjectively from case to case however, they also embody basic unchanging thoughts that must be applied in order to ensure clarity and fairness in the legal system.
It forces the person deciding the case to view the facts as a neutral third party and to act objectively as well as give everyone present a fair chance to be heard which prevents misunderstandings in the long run. Finally, every decision of the Courts must indeed make sense and should be able to answer the ‘why’ easily which assures the citizens and ensures their trust and faith in the legal system as well.
 Smt. Ritu Devi v. Commissioner of Income Tax, (2004) 190 CTR Mad 354
 Ridge v. Baldwin, (1964) A.C. 40
 Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India, 1978 AIR 597
 Ajantha Industries v. Central Board of Direct Taxes, AIR 1976 SC 437
Author: Keerthana R,
2nd Year, Christ University