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The Concept and Principles of Natural Justice at a Glance

Written by- Hridya Harikumar


The legal principle of natural justice has evolved over many years with the goal of ensuring fairness in the process of decision-making. The principles of natural justice are an important component of the legal system and crucial to upholding the rule of law. Natural justice is understood to be the sense of right and wrong that comes naturally to all people. They seek to guarantee impartiality and fairness in all legal proceedings. They are the fundamental rules of justice that have developed over time through the common law and the constitution. They also go by the term "procedural fairness." They guarantee that everyone is given fair and equal treatment.

Natural justice principles are legal principles that protect people from the arbitrary use of power and guarantee fair play. It guarantees people fairness, reason, a clear conscience, equity, and equality. They are not enshrined in any piece of legislation but rather are a common law concept that has evolved over time through court rulings and case laws. They are an integral component of the legal system in many democratic nations across the world.

Origin of Natural Justice

Natural justice has its earliest roots in ancient Rome and Greece. In these societies, justice was regarded as the core principle that guided all facets of human interactions. The Greeks had embraced the idea that "no man should be condemned unheard" in earlier times. The rule of law has, in fact, been marked by natural justice since the mythical eras of Adam and Kautilya's Arthashastra, making it social justice.

During the middle ages, the idea of natural justice underwent further development, most notably in the English legal system. Natural law played a significant role in the emergence and growth of equity in England. The formulation of the US Constitution was influenced by the idea of natural law and natural rights. Furthermore, it served as the foundation for international law and conventions, covenants, and declarations.

The framers of the Indian Constitution, the Indian judiciary, and the Parliament have all recognized the significance of natural justice and the need to incorporate it into the country's laws, procedures, and practices.

The concept

The term "natural justice" came from the Roman legal terms "Jus Naturale" and "Lex Naturalis." Natural justice can be understood to be the systematic process by which judicial, quasi-judicial, and other administrative authorities render justice. It refers to the key principles of fairness.

The rules of natural justice are basic concepts of law that are regarded as vital elements of the judiciary and the legal system. Its principles apply not only to courts of law but to any quasi-judicial or statutory authority with the function of determining the rights and obligations of the people. The goal of complying with natural justice principles is to avoid injustice.

The following three principles are considered to be the key elements of natural justice:

1. Bias rule or "Nemo debet esse judex in propria causa" 2. Hearing rule or "Audi alteram partem" 3. Speaking or reasoned order

1) Rule against bias

The principle of "Nemo debet esse judex in propria causa" is also referred to as the Bias Rule or the Doctrine of Bias. It states that "no one shall be a judge in his own cause".

Bias is defined as any act that leads to unfair behaviour in relation to a party or particular case, whether conscious or unconscious. The rule against bias prohibits factors that inappropriately influence a judge in making a decision in a specific case. This principle requires the decision-maker to be objective and unbiased. The bias principle makes sure that justice is not just done but also seen to be done.

Biases are classified into three types: personal bias, pecuniary bias, and subject matter bias. Other types of bias include departmental bias, preconceived notion bias, and judicial obstinacy.

a) Personal bias- It develops out of a relationship between the party and the decision-making authority, for example, through friendship, acquaintance, enmity, etc. Since it is hard to establish the state of mind of the judge, reasonable grounds must exist for claiming that there may be a personal bias.

b) Pecuniary bias- An individual is deemed to be pecuniary biased when he has a monetary or financial interest in the case, as the term implies. If any member of the judicial body receives any kind of financial benefit, no matter how minor, it may cause the administrative authority to be biased.

c) Subject matter bias- The adjudicator or judge will be disqualified on the grounds of bias if he has closely identified himself with the issues at stake and has any general interest in the subject matter at issue as a result of his affiliation with the administration or private body, whether direct or indirect.

d) Departmental bias- Each and every administrative process suffers from the issue of departmental bias, yet, due to it being rarely addressed, the proceeding loses its positive sense of fairness at every phase.

e) Preconceived notion bias- Preconceived policy notion issues are a very specific problem. The assembled audience in the courtroom does not reckon that the judges will conduct a fair trial and render a judgement on a blank page.

f) Judicial obstinacy- In order to appease their self-centered judicial obstinacy, the decision-maker would not accept "no" as a response. Obstinacy implies unreasonable and unchanging stubbornness. This is a new type of bias that was identified in a case where a judge of the Calcutta High Court maintained his own judgment while sitting in an appeal.

2) Hearing rule

"Audi Alteram Partem" means "hear the other side" or "no one should be condemned without being heard." It is also referred to as the "Rule of Fair Hearing". This is the core idea of the principle of natural justice. This phrase implies that a person should be given the opportunity to defend himself.

The following are the essential ingredients of the Hearing rule-

a) Notice- Prior to any sort of action being taken, the affected party has to be given a notice showing the cause along with an explanation. It is a pre-requisite for the right to a fair hearing. Any order issued without prior notice contravenes natural justice principles and will become unenforceable. However, there are some exceptions.

b) Hearing- The maxim "audi alteram partem" requires that the person in question be allowed to be heard prior to any action being initiated against him.

c) Right to present the case and evidence- The person should be given enough time after receiving the notice to gather the necessary evidence and present his case convincingly. The refusal shouldn't be made on an arbitrary or unreasonable basis.

d) Cross examination- The right to cross-examine the parties' testimony is part of the right to a fair hearing. To refute the evidence, cross-examination is a crucial concept. However, if the situation calls for it, cross-examination may be refused in some exceptional circumstances.

e) Right to legal representation- The right to counsel is a vital component of this principle, and denying it will end up in a violation of natural justice. Every involved party has the right to legal representation during the investigation process.

3) Reasoned decisions

Every order must be justified. Speaking order is regarded as the third principle of natural justice. In accordance with this principle, the decision-maker must explain the rationale for his decision.

When a deciding body gives a reason for its decision, it is referred to as a reasoned decision. It is also termed a "speaking order," as the order is considered to speak for itself. The party or parties have to know why and on what basis a judgment was passed against them. Otherwise, it will be violative of natural justice.

Exceptions to the principles of natural justice

The principles of natural justice are subject to certain exceptions-

a) Emergency: The principles of natural justice could prove impossible to apply in odd and unexpected circumstances, such as when constitutional machinery fails or when an emergency exists.

b) Confidentiality: If the confidentiality of a matter is affected by the application of the principles of natural justice, it cannot be forced.

c) Routine matters: These are trivial issues for which using the rule of natural justice would be ineffective.

d) No right is infringed: The principles can only be applied when an individual's right is violated.

Important case laws

1. Cooper v. Wands Worth Board of Works (1863) [1]

If a building was constructed without prior authorization, the defendant Board had the authority to demolish it without giving the owner a chance to be heard. This clause allowed the Board to demolish the plaintiff's house. The Board did not transgress the statutory provision with its action. But the Court ruled that the Board's authority was constrained by the stipulation that no one can be deprived of his property without having the chance to be heard.

2. A.K. Kraipak v. Union of India (1970) [2]

A member of a committee that chooses candidates for a position is not permitted to run for the position. It was discovered that the fundamentals of natural justice also apply to administrative operations.

3. Hira Nath Mishra v. Rajendra Medical College (1973) [3]

In this case, an allegation was made that certain male pupils had late-night access to the girl's hostel compound while they were naked. They were expelled from the university. They prayed for the girls who saw them to be cross-examined. But the court rejected their request and noted that it might expose the girls and subject them to harassment.

4. Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India (1978) [4]

The Indian government seized the petitioner's passport, and it was said to be done “in public interest”. But the petitioner was not given the chance to object before the action was taken. Thus, it was held to be violative of the fundamentals of natural justice.

5. Mohapatra & Co. v. State of Orissa (1984) [5]

In this case, it was identified that the possibility of bias could not be eliminated and that the decision made by the committee could not stand when the author of a book was a member of the panel established for the selection of books and his book was also up for nomination by that panel.

6. D.K. Yadav v. J.M.A. Industries Ltd. (1993) [6]

It was determined that the "right to life" set forth in Article 21 includes the right to a living, and thus, terminating a worker's service without giving him a fair chance to be heard is unjust, arbitrary, and illegal.


Natural justice is an important legal tenet that seeks to assure fairness and equality in the legal system. It is designed to achieve the desired justice in every single instance. They make certain that every individual is treated fairly and that justice is served in an open and impartial manner. These principles are applicable to all legal proceedings, including administrative and quasi-judicial, criminal, civil, and disciplinary proceedings.

These principles are important not only in the legal system but also in other spheres like education. It is vital to the rule of law and is necessary for democratic societies to function effectively. They must be followed consistently to make sure that justice is not just served but also seen to be served. Knowing and implementing these principles is critical to preserving the rule of law and facilitating the administration of justice.


C.K. Takwani, Lecture on Administrative Law, 6th Edition, Eastern Book Company

End notes

[1] Cooper v. Wands worth Board of Works, (1863) 143 ER 414

[2] A.K. Kraipak v. Union of India, AIR 1970 SC 150

[3] Hira Nath Mishra v. Rajendra Medical College, AIR 1973 SC 1260

[4] Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, AIR 1978 SC 597

[5] Mohapatra & Co. v. State of Orissa, (1984) 4 SCC 103

[6] D.K. Yadav v. J.M.A. Industries Ltd., 1993 SCR (3) 930

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