The Principles of Natural Justice and their Importance

As children, many times, we were told stories of Kings and their great empires and how they would solve a dispute. The King and his court would be the ones to hear the dispute. He would also be unbiased, as he would be solving a dispute amongst his subjects. He would then give a decision based on what he thought was reasonable and fair. Just like that would the problem be solved and we would have a happy ending to our stories.

These stories would always be to make us understand some important aspects; and in this one, it was the underlying principles of Natural Justice. In short, they are the good morals, fairness and good faith based on natural ideas of right and wrong.

Meaning of Natural Justice

The words, ‘natural justice’ are derived from the words ‘Jus Natural‘ of Roman law. Although it is uncodified, it means the law that is based on fundamental ideas of right and wrong[1]. It means the law of nature, that which is not derived from any statute or constitution. It is justice, equity and good conscience. It is only an outcome of proper judicial thinking and that of a good system and fair trails.

These principles aim to give correct and proper decisions to everyone. Any authoritative body should use them while making any decision, as it may adversely affect the right of individuals. These principles aim to remove arbitrariness and injustice towards citizens or the aggrieved parties by the decisions of authoritative bodies.

Adhering to the principles of natural justice is seen as an extremely important action by all civilized states. This principle safeguards the rights of an individual, who so ever it may be. In India, the principles of natural justice seem to be followed through in Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. Where Art.14 talks about equality before the law and equal protection of the law to all people and Art.21 about life and liberty except under procedure established by law; the principles can be read into these two articles as the procedures of law.

The Three Principles of Natural Justice

These principles of justice are like good morals that one should follow. They do not override any codified law, but are merely something that a body giving a decision should follow.

They are as follows:

  • Audi Alteram Partem
  • Nemo debet esse judex in propria causa
  • Reasoned order

These rules of natural justice are flexible and can adapt to each case. They are not a part of any statute nor have been explained anywhere. They have now become a part of law and procedure. Although they are not laws that can override any codified law, they are subordinate to statutory provisions. They can operate in areas not covered by the law, or can be used as a basis for problem-solving. These principles aim to make sure that there is no miscarriage of justice being delivered in every cause.[2]  

Also, in the case of Kansa V. State of Madhya Pradesh & Others,[3] the judgement delivered specified that even though no statute describes the minimum procedure that administrative bodies and quasi-judicial bodies are to follow while taking any decisions, it is mandatory to follow the principles of natural justice as the decisions are in respect to the right of individuals. “The principles of natural justice signify the basic minimum fair procedure which must be followed while exercising decision making powers. Natural justice forms the very backbone of a civilized society.”                         

  • AUDI ALTERAM PARTEM

This Latin maxim translates to ‘let the other side be heard’. It means that every party in the conflict has the right to be heard properly. Enquiry done by any authority should give the right to the party to defend themselves and ask questions. This includes the right to know the reasons of accusation or problem. It also allows the person to collect evidence on his behalf and to find a legal representative. In many statues, provisions are made to ensure that there are notices given to the person upon the issue in which they are involved. However, some may not contain this provision. It is in such times where the principles of natural justice step in.

Art.14 of the constitution encompasses this principle by giving equality under the law. This can be seen in the case of Delhi Transport Corporation V. DTC Mazdoor Union[4], where the SC held that, “the audi alteram partem rule, in essence, enforce the equality clause in Art 14 and it applies not only to quasi-judicial bodies but also to administrative order adversely affecting the party in question unless the rule has been excluded by the Act in question.”

Further in the case of M.C. Mehta V. Union of India[5] 1999(6) SCC 237, the SC stated that it was a breach of natural justice if it occurs that all facts were not admitted even if the other principles of natural justice were followed.

  • NEMO DEBET ESSE JUDEX IN PROPRIA CAUSA

This maxim means that no person can be the judge of his cause. This protects the proceedings from bias and impartiality towards a party. The judge, authority or body must not be in the interest of the case being decided by them. In case such a thing takes place, it would cause harm to the rights of proper proceedings to an individual as the authoritative body may take interest into the case in pecuniary benefits, personal relation, malice or ill-will. This essentially strips the principle that justice must be properly done.

In the case of, A.K Kraipak V. Union of India[6], the higher court quashed the judgement of a quasi-judicial body because it went against the principle of natural justice. The case relates to the selection to Indian Forest Service from the employees of Forest Department for the State of J&K. The selection committee included a person who was among the candidates for the service. Thus, the court said in the matter, “You cannot be the judge of your case”, and hence quashed the selection.

In Baidyanath Mohapatra V. State of Orissa[7], a government servant was retired prematurely at the age of 50. The committee which had decided on the retirement had a member who became the chairman of the tribunal in which the case was filed. The tribunal confirmed the order of premature retirement. Therefore, the SC stated that the decision of the tribunal was wrong because the member having commonality in the committee and tribunal was considered as having an interest in the case, therefore going against the principle of natural justice and thus deemed the decision of the tribunal invalid.

  • REASONED ORDER

There is a belief among experts in the legal field that any decisions are given by any authority, judiciary or quasi-judiciary bodies has to be reasonable and explained with the reason for giving the decision.  This helps to give an assurance that the facts, evidence and records relating to the case have been duly given consideration. This helps in judicial review, shows rational decision making and ensures against arbitrary practice and hastiness of judgement.

It makes the authorities alert and minimizes unfairness and infiltration of personal bias. It also shows that justice is not just done but appears to be done. Further, a judgement without reasons comes of very little assistance to the court. [8]

In the case of Asst. Commissioner Commercial Tax Department, Works Contract & Leasing Quota V. Shukla & Bros.[9], the SC observed that it is obligatory on the part of the judicial or quasi-judicial bodies to pass a reasoned order while exercising a statutory jurisdiction. In the absence of a reasoned order, it would become a tool for harassment.

In the case of S. N. Mukherjee V. Union of India[10] , the court held that the horizons of the principles of natural justice are expanding and that authorities while exercising power may feel that it would not be in the larger public interest that the reasons for the order to be communicated. However, the authority must reason their orders unless the requirement has been explicitly dispensed. “About the exercise of a particular power by an administrative authority including the exercise of judicial or quasi-judicial functions the legislature, while conferring the said power…… it must be concluded that except in cases where the requirement has been dispensed with expressly or by necessary implication, an administrative authority exercising judicial or quasi-judicial functions is required to record the reasons for its decision.”

Supplement the Law

The principles of natural justice are for fair play in action. They are a support to the legal provisions and statutes. They do not override any provision made in the law. That is, in some cases, where reasoned order is explicitly dispensed by the statute, the authority does not have to follow that principle of natural justice. About that, in Art.21 of the constitution, it has a phrase, “except according to the procedure established by law”. This procedure may include natural justice principles as they are moral rights that should be given to a party; however, it may not include natural justice as it is not a law. This was one of the issues arisen in the case of Maneka Gandhi V. Union of India.[11]

In Thakur V. Hariprasad V. CIT[12] the HC held as follows: “The doctrine of natural justice is a facet of fair play in action. No person shall be saddled with liability without being heard. In administrative law, this doctrine has been extended when a person is made liable in an action without being heard. The principles of natural justice do not supplant the law but merely supplement the law or even humanize it. If a statutory provision can be read consistent with the principles of natural justice, the court could do so, for the Legislature is presumed to intend to act according to the principles of natural justice.”

Conclusion

 It can be seen that the principles of natural justice are flexible and change in many circumstances. They cannot be held high up nor can be constricted into definitive points. They flow their way into the realization of ‘morally right’ to protect individual rights. All stages of procedure remain strictly binding according to the codified laws, but natural justice makes its way into protecting Justice. 

The principles are extended towards all authoritative bodies and are like good habits to follow for fair and just decisions. The use of these principles will keep the decisions of authorities valid. They are good habits; treat others the way you want to be treated; Be heard, be fairly treated, and Know why a decision is the way it is.


[1] https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/jus-naturale

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

[3] Kansa V. State of Madhya Pradesh & Ors, 2015 (3) JLJ 29

[4] Delhi Transport Corporation V. DTC Mazdoor Union, AIR 1991 SC 101

[5] M.C. Mehta V. Union of India, 1999(6) SCC 237

[6] A.K Kraipak V. Union of India, AIR 1970 SC 150

[7] Baidyanath Mohapatra V. State of Orissa, AIR 1988 SC 2218

[8] Woolcombers of India Ltd. V. Woolcombers Workers’ Union, AIR 1973 SC 2758

[9] Asst. Commissioner Commercial Tax Department, Works Contract & Leasing Quota V. Shukla & Bros. 2010(4) JT     35

[10] S. N. Mukherjee V. Union of India, AIR 1990 SC 1984

[11] Maneka Gandhi V. Union Of India, 1978 AIR 597

[12] Thakur V. Hariprasad V. CIT, 1987 32 Taxman 196 (AP)

Sai Kulkarni from Marathwada Mitra Mandal’s Shankarrao Chavan Law CollegePune

“Curiosity is the engine for discovery, inquiry and learning’ Just a curious girl working to leave a mark.”

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