Updated: Feb 20, 2022
We have heard of cases where the parties in a case have gone through an unfair trial by either the judge not hearing their side of arguments or cases where the judge had a partiality towards one of the parties in some manner.
So there are administrative laws that can help bring justice to the aggrieved party in the above-given example. So in this case the principle of natural justice comes into action.
Natural Justice is a doctrine that is from the common law system, mainly involving two principles:
● Nemo judex in causa sua (No man shall be judge in his own cause)
● Audi alteram partem (let the other side be heard as well)
Natural justice is derived from the Roman concept jus-naturale and Lex naturale which meant the principle of natural law, natural justice, eternal law and good conscience.[i]
In India, the principle of natural justice can be implied from article 14 and article 21 of The Constitution of India.
● Article 14 i.e. Equality before law - The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.
● Article 21 i.e. Protection of life and personal liberty - No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.
Both these articles imply the principle of natural justice, i.e. a person will have a fair hearing and also the person shall not be deprived of his life or liberty unless it is according to the procedure established by law (So if a hearing is biased then it is in violation of article 21).
Nemo judex in causa sua
This maxim is the first principle of natural justice. It means that no man shall be judge in his own case or cause. The deciding authority must be impartial and unbiased. For example, if a person files a case against a company and the judge is a relative of the person filing the case then it could be assumed that the judge will have a favour towards the person filing the case. So in such cases, the judge can be disqualified from hearing the case.
In Rajesh Kumar and Ors. Vs. D. Commissioner of Income Tax and Ors, it was held that, due to an action on part of statutory authority, civil or evil consequences ensue, then principles of natural justice were required to be followed and though no express provision was laid down in this behalf, but the compliance of principles of natural justice would be inferred. Since, Deputy Commissioner passed an order under section 142(2A) of Income Tax Act, 1961 without giving an opportunity of hearing to the assessee for auditing of books of account of the assessee and refused to hear assessees request for supply of reasons thereof, hence, the action of Deputy Commissioner was vitiated in law.[ii]
Types of Bias
● Pecuniary Bias: If a deciding authority has a financial gain on any party, it can be a ground for dismissing or disqualifying that body or authority from the proceedings.
● Personal Bias: Here if the judge and one of the parties have any personal relation then it is natural to assume that the judge would be unfair while giving the judgement.
● Institutional or Departmental Bias: This type of bias must be checked time to time as there can be situations where the judge and the public prosecutor might be from the same department.
● Preconceived Bias: This bias occurs in cases where the judge might take the side of a party who has suffered a lot due to the act of another because of sympathy or basic human prejudice.
● Subject matter bias: This bias is where the deciding body is directly or indirectly involved in the subject matter of that particular case.
● Bias on account of obstinacy: This type of bias arises from the unreasonable stubbornness of the judge. The Supreme Court discovered this new type of bias when in Calcutta High Court a judge sustained his own judgement in an appeal for his own judgement.[iii]
Audi alteram partem
This maxim is the second principle of natural justice. It means that “let the other side be heard as well” or it means that the party on the other side must receive a fair hearing.
So the next question is what is a fair hearing?
Essentials for a hearing to be fair:
● Right to notice - Right to notice means that the accused must be served with a notice which mentions:
❖ the time, place and nature of the hearing
❖ the legal authority under which a hearing is to be held.
❖ the statement of specific charges or grounds the person has to meet
❖ the evidence that is going to be used against him.
● The decision-making authority must hear the accused
● Right to present his case and evidence- The accused must be given the chance to present his case with his evidence within a reasonable time.
● Right to rebut adverse evidence
● Right to cross-examine the witness
● Right to legal representation- A person has the right to choose and be represented/defended by a lawyer as per article 22(1) of The Constitution of India.[iv]
Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India (1978), is one of the most important cases in India pertaining to the principle of natural justice. When Maneka Gandhi’s passport was impounded by the authorities under section 10(3)(c) of the passport act which was a section that already was in violation of article 21 of the Constitution of India i.e. right to life and personal liberty.
And moreover, she was not given any reason for this impounding and was not given a chance to be heard thus in violation of the principle of natural justice.
Exceptions to natural justice
● During Emergency- No one can claim the right to be heard when an emergency is declared.
● Confidentiality- In cases where confidentiality is a must, there following of natural justice can be excluded
● Inter-disciplinary actions- In an action like suspending a person there is no need to follow the principles of natural justice.
● Public Actions- Any action done against the interest of the general public is considered to be void ab initio.
● Legislative Actions- Parliament while making a law can declare that the principle of natural justice cannot be applied in that particular statute.
[i]https://www.academia.edu/23092337/Title_PRINCIPLES_OF_NATURAL_JUSTICE_IN_THE_LIGHT_OF_ADMINISTRATIVE_LAW_An_Analytical_and_comprehensive_study_of_Principle_of_natural_justice_especially_in_the_field_of_administrative_law [ii] (Rajesh Kumar &Ors. v. Deputy CIT &Ors. - Taxpublishers.in) [iii]Microsoft Word - PRINCIPLE OF NATURAL JUSTICE (cusb.ac.in) [iv]Hearing: Important ingredient of natural justice and common law (thefactfactor.com)