Recent Supreme Court judgment in India: A study with regard to application of the Principle of Natural Justice

Recent Supreme Court judgment in India: A study with regard to application of the Principle of Natural Justice.

Author: Swati Rani,
Assistant Professor,
Jagran School of Law, Dehradun.

Recent Supreme Court judgment in India: A study with regard to application of the Principle of Natural Justice

Principle of natural justice can be extracted from the natural law school of jurisprudence. This school has been emerged as a law of self-preservation. The rationale behind the Principle of Natural Justice being followed by a welfare state is “if there is anything universally valid, it is that which is valid by nature for all men without distinction of people and time” and natural law including the principles of natural justice being followed universally without any distinction. According to Grotius:

“Natural Law is so immutable that it cannot be changed by God himself”

A welfare state is expected to bound by certain principles including the Rule of Law, Separation of Power, Principle of Natural Justice and so on. If the judiciary of a welfare state fails to recognize or ignores any such principles it may lead to the dark age of the judicial system in a democratic country. In India, Supreme Court throughout various judicial pronouncements has emphasized the importance of principle of natural justice in a welfare state.

This emphasizes the binding and unavoidable nature of natural law and principle of natural justice being extracted from natural law school. A welfare state is suppose to be sanctioned if it follows natural law and governed by rule of law.

The Court in England imposes certain principles of natural justice such as fair trial, freedom of liberty and other freedoms to persons to name a few. The judiciary in England scrutinizes the actions of quasi-judicial and administrative actions in light of principles of natural justice. The attempt of Lord Mansfield to introduce the doctrine of unjust enrichment in English Law was an application of the principle of natural justice  as an important and unavoidable principle in English Judiciary.

Principles of natural justice being a principle evolved from natural law and being a common law principle has a binding force in India and other democracies as well. The beauty of principle of natural justice is in the fair trial provided to persons as a matter of right not as just a mere convenience.

In Cooper v Wandworth Board of Works , the Court in England established that the principles of natural justice in simplest meaning is bound to be followed as a rule. Further, if any statute is silent on the subject the judiciary of the common law will have the obligation and responsibility to fill the gap left by the legislature by the non-inclusion of principles of natural justice.

In Ridge v. Baldwin  the court recognizes the seriousness of administrative proceedings and held that rule of fair hearing must be followed in administrative proceedings. This judgment contributes towards the recognition of fairness in the proceedings and also this judgment lead to establish the importance of principles of natural justice in the administrative proceedings and actions.

Further, in Infant K (H) , the Court of Appeal discussed that no matter the proceeding is of quasi-judicial or administrative nature, it must adhere to the principles of natural justice and fairness. the fairness in action is required to create the transparency in the system and also to build the citizen’s faith in the judicial legal system. Further, the Fairness in Judiciary and quasi-judicial proceedings is a universal recognised rule and it is being binding on the common law countries .

Further, the principle rule against bias can be derive from:

a) In R v. Sussex , Lord Hewart CJ said: “justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.”

b) In  Case of Prohibitions  Sir Edward Coke said: “No One Should Be a Judge in his Own Cause”.

c) In Leeson v. General Council of Medical Education and Registration (1889) , as per Justice Bowem ” Judges, like Caesar‟s wife should be above suspicion”.

Hence, from above it can be said and observed that the proceedings whether judicial, quasi-judicial or administrative, must be free from any bias and should be fair and impartial.

The above mentioned case laws help to determine the binding nature of principles of natural law to name a few. Further, India being a common law country and principle of natural law being evolved and ratified as a common law principle, Indian legal system is bound to adhere to the principle of natural justice.

Various landmark Supreme Court of India judgments emphasises on the importance and unavoidability of the principles of natural law. Some of such judgments are discusses here as under:

In A.K. Kraipak v. Union of India , the Supreme Court Held:

” The rules of natural justice operate in areas not covered by any law validly made, that is, they  do not supplant  the law of the land but supplement it. They are not embodied rules and their aim is to secure justice or to prevent miscarriage of justice. If that is their  purpose, there  is  no  reason why they should not be made applicable to administrative proceeding also, especially when it is not easy to draw the line that demarcates administrative enquiries from quasi-judicial ones, and an unjust decision in an administrative enquiry may have a more far-reaching effect than a decision in a quasi-judicial enquiry.”

In this case while pending before the Supreme Court, the selections were set aside on the ground that they violated the principles of natural justice as one of the members of the selection board was himself interested in that selection.

In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India , the Supreme Court held that even if the procedure established by law is right, fair and just but it can be set aside on being arbitrary or on not being reasonable.

Further, In  Delhi Transport Corporation v. DTC Mazdoor Union , the Supreme Court held:
“the principle of natural justice must be incapable of exclusion in a given situation.”

From the above mentioned case laws it can be extracted that the principles of natural justice have attained a major importance in Indian Judicial system which cannot be avoided and the same had been held by the Supreme Court in various judgments, as few mentioned above.
But in recent incident when one complaint was raised against one former employee of Supreme Court against the Chief Justice of India for sexual harassment, the Supreme Court have seen to play with the rules and precedents established by itself on various occasions. The Supreme Court had also been criticized for avoiding the principles of natural justice resulting the judicial assassination by the Apex Court of India.  Here, A 35-year-old woman who used to work as a junior court assistant at the Supreme Court of India wrote to 22 judges of the court on Friday, April 19,2018 alleging that Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi had made sexual advances on her at his residence office on October 10 and 11, 2018.

The Supreme Court of Indi
a exercising its power under Section 12(1)(a)  of Supreme Court of India Rules, 2013 and raised the petition “In Re: MATTER OF GREAT PUBLIC IMPORTANCE TOUCHING UPON THE INDEPENDENCE OF JUDICIARY ” to the Supreme Court bench ‘suo moto’. He formed a two-judge bench to decide a matter against Chief Justice India being the judge to decide the matter. The Bench in the said petition said:

“Having considered the matter, we refrain from passing any judicial order at this moment leaving it to the wisdom of the media to show restraint, act responsibly as is expected from them and accordingly decide what should or should not be published as wild and scandalous allegations undermine and irreparably damage reputation and negate independence of judiciary. We would therefore at this juncture leave it to the media to take off such material which is undesirable.”

On the one hand where the credibility of media is in question in the country and various demands have been raised to regulate the media and the freedom which it has been seen to be misused these days which is a matter of public concern and being known to all, the Supreme Court on the other hand, laid this responsibility which is of a greater importance to the media. This may be the judicial assassination or the darkest age of the Indian Judiciary one may ever imagine. The allegation made against the Chief Justice of India and the Court took the matter suo moto to decide the same and dismissed the petition based on such vague grounds.

Later, the Supreme Court formed a complaint committee being required to investigate the matter as per the provisions contained in Chapter II of Sexual Harassment of Woman at Workplace Act, 2013. One Media house “LIVEMINT” on its official website published an article mentioning:

“The former Supreme Court staffer also expressed her objection to the constitution of the panel, which, without a majority of women members, was not in accordance with the Vishakha guidelines and the Prevention of Sexual Harassment against Women at the Workplace Act (POSH). According to these provisions, such a committee should have a majority of women members and also include an external member. After objections were raised by the woman in her letter sent to the panel, Justice N.V. Ramana recused himself from the panel and Justice Indu Malhotra was appointed the third member.”

 As a result of this, Justice Bobde Committee was formed to investigate the said matter. The report and findings of the committee was not disclosed to the public being it a in-house proceedings. The Supreme Court issuing a statement said that the report should be kept confidential and gave clean chit to the chief justice of India for the sexual harassment allegations.

The criticism raised here is that according to the Supreme Court by its judgments, the Supreme Court is a state when performing administrative or non-judicial function functions and not when performing judicial functions. In the excercise of non-judicial function, the courts fall under the definition of the ‘state’ . The Committee formed to investigate the sexual harassment complaint against the Chief Justice of India is not included in the Supreme Court’s judicial functions. Hence, being this function as non-judicial one, the Supreme Court comes under the definition of state under Article 12 . Being an administrative committee the committee was bound to disclose the findings and the report of the committee to the public. Because the Supreme Court of India being the paramount institution responsible for the free, fair and just justice in the country and it can be supposed to act arbitrarily. the transparency should be maintained because the people’s faith to the Country’s Apex Court was at stake and the Supreme Court should not have taken this lightly.

Apart from this, ‘the report is based on reasonable grounds or not or the functioning of the committee was arbitrary or not’ this questioned has remained open for the criticizers as the non disclosure of the report must have raised such questions criticizing the Indian Judicial System.

One of the reason of apprehension of the arbitrariness is that the person against whom the allegations were made was the Chief Justice of India and being a man of power and also being the senior most judge of the Supreme Court he must have had “good connections” with is colleagues some of then must have been in the committee. This and many other relevant doubts related to the impartiality of committee is being raised by non-disclosure of the report of the committee. This is to be noted that the Supreme Court in its earlier decision in DTC v. DTC Mazdoor  Union held ;” Any law made or action taken by the employer, corporate statutory or instrumentality under Article 12  must act fairly and reasonably. Right. to fair treatment is an essential inbuilt of natural justice”.

The Supreme Court is said to regulate its affair by its own rules and procedures termed as judicial legislation as provide under Article 145  of the Constitution of India. Such a rule if framed would be valid and binding on all . The principle of judicial legislation sor interpretation founded on the current needs of the society.  And it is the least expected from the judiciary to be fair, just and reasonable and be bound to follow the Principle of natural justice which in this situation is seen to be absent from the picture.

The principle of natural justice as held by the Supreme Court in previous matters that the judge must not decide a matter interested to him, this would violate the principle of natural justice is clearly being seen violated in the case raised against “CHIEF JUSTICE OF INDIA”. As held by Supreme Court- “It is against all canons of justice to make a man judge in his own cause.”

Apart from this judiciary is empowered to create its own rules and procedures known as judicial legislation and judiciary is being seen in this particular incident playing with its rules and specially avoiding completely the principles of natural justice in this particular situation.

The first, point raised that if the court was to dismiss the petition then why it had raised the matter suo moto. As this power should be exercise in matter of great importance which is of public nature and also involve question of law.

The court had developed a different and negative type of judicial culture which can be result in abuse of judicial powers in cases of allegations made against judicial officials specially the person or judges in higher judiciary. The people will must have fear to raise its objections or complaints against judiciary having notion of judiciary being “securer of the judges not of the justice”.

The notion that the judiciary must be the protector of the fundamental rights and principles of natural justice is seemed to be vanished in respect of this particular situation.

After this incident, the Chief Justice of India’s role as ‘Master of Roster’ will also come into picture as questionable and required consideration and this matter also brought to be in public by the Supreme Court’s then four Judges.

This matter should be consider by the Parliament having power in this regard or other agency as may be seen fit to be competent authority for the amendment and betterment of the judiciary which also lead no interference on the independency of the judiciary and the role of the Chief Justice of India as ‘master of roster’ should also be justifiable.

It does not look good to hear or see the news articles regarding the one side play the judiciary and not giving a bit importance to the party raising the allegations. As raising allegations to the Chief Justice of India being one of the most powerful person of the country, such step take much courage and strength if bona-fide. And the response received based on such allegation will result in the confidence of the people to be increase or decrease in matters related to raise allegations in future.
This whole incident is seen to be making the mockery of the justice system and playing the judicial legislation in order to secure “The Judge” not to give a judgment based on the reasonable grounds. Where there is absence of reasonable grounds supporting the judgment, there would be violation of the principle of natural justice.

Being the apex court, it have the responsibility to maintain the people’s faith in the judiciary and not to give further reasons to criticize judiciary for not following the procedures which it should had as per its previous judgments.

Lastly, where recently Supreme Court have been observed to lay judgments based on natural law philosophy for example Justice K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India and ors. , Indian Young Lawyers Association v. The State Of Kerala ,  Navtej Singh Johar vs Union Of India  to name a few. This shows the attitude of Supreme Court to recognise the natural law on one hand, and in recent incident where the allegations of sexual harassment were made against the Chief Justice of India, the principles of natural justice have been seen shattered by the judiciary.

The court was supposed to be fair, just and free from all the biasness but here this notion which has been established by Justice p.n. Bhagwati in Maneka Gandhi  case has been seen to be completely being ignored. This incident may result in a grave damage to the ‘Rule of Law’.

# V.D. Mahajan’s “Jurisprudence & Legal Theory” Fifth Edition; Eastern Book Company; Page 616
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#       in-affidavit-to-22-judges at 15:37 P.M. on 16 Oct., 2019
#S. 12(1).  A public Interest Litigation may commence in any of the following manner:
     a. as a suo moto petition in persuance of the order of the Chief Justice or Judge of the Copurt.
#    against-cji-gogoi-1557144334119.html at 16:04 P.M. on 08 OCT,2019
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#Article 12. Definition In this part, unless the context otherwise requires, the State includes the   Government and Parliament of India and the Government and the Legislature of each of the States   and all local or other authorities within the territory of India or under the control of the Government   of India
#1991 AIR 101
#Article 12 State: the term ‘State’ denotes the union and state governments, the Parliament and state   legislatures and all local or other authorities within the territory of India or under the control of the   Indian government.
# Article 145. Rules of Court, etc
  1)Subject to the provisions of any law made by Parliament the Supreme Court may from time to t   time, with the approval of the President, make rules for regulating generally the practice and   procedure of the Court….
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#WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO. 373 OF 2006                                                                                 
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