Natural justice is a legal philosophy used in the determination of just, or fair processes in legal proceedings. Natural justice imposes a code of fair procedure, including the right to be given a fair hearing and the right to have a decision made by an unbiased decision-maker. The notion of natural justice has developed as a common law concept: an obligation to provide a minimum level of fairness when an individual’s rights are affected in any of a broad range of factual scenarios. The principles of natural justice have come out from the need of man to protect himself from the excesses of organized power. Anil K Bansal describes the rules of natural justice as a hedge serving against blatant discrimination of the rights of individuals. The words ‘natural justice’ are derived from the Roman word ‘Jus Naturale’, which means principles of natural law, justice, equity, and good conscience.
These principles did not originate from any divine power, but are the outcome of the necessity of judicial thinking, as well as the necessity to evolve the norms of fair play. Adherence to rules of natural justice, as recognised by all civilised States, is of supreme importance, when a quasi-judicial body embarks on determining disputes between the parties or any administrative or disciplinary action is in question. Rules of natural justice serve as hedge against any blatant discrimination against rights of individuals. These rules are intended to prevent such authority from doing injustice. They seem to be recognised by Article 21 of the Constitution of India in a way which says, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law“. This is that procedure which is held by the courts to be the rules of natural justice.
CHANGE IN THE CONCEPT OF NATURAL JUSTICE
With the evolution of society, as well as legal jurisprudence, the concept of natural justice has also undergone change. Rules of natural justice were part of the law and procedure during the British Raj also, and are being observed in India since time immemorial. What particular rule of natural justice should be applied depends on the facts and circumstances of each case. Orders of the disciplinary authority, which involve civil consequence, must be consistent with the rules of natural justice, otherwise the orders are likely to be set aside by the courts.
WHAT ARE THE RULES?
Two rules that have evolved over the years representing the rules of natural justice in judicial, quasi-judicial and administrative processes are ‘nemo debet esse judex in propria causa’ (means that no man shall be judge in his own cause) and ‘audi alteram partem’ (means that no one should be condemned unheard).
NATURE OF THE RULES OF NATURAL JUSTICE
The nature of the rules of natural justice tend to change with the exigencies of time, and circumstances of each case. Due to their flexible nature, they may seem to be vague or uncertain, but they have been very well adopted by the Indian legal system. Their aim is to prevent arbitrariness, as well as miscarriage of justice. Of course, they are not enforceable as fundamental rights, but nevertheless, they ensure a strong safeguard against any arbitrary action that may adversely affect the rights of individuals. These have been laid down by the courts as being the minimum protection to rights of individuals against the arbitrary procedure that may be adopted by a judicial or quasi-judicial authority, while making an order affecting those rights. These rules are intended to prevent such authority from doing injustice. It is important to note that proceedings before the civil court are governed by the Code of Civil Procedure; criminal proceedings are governed by the Criminal Procedure Code, but in respect of departmental enquiries, no detailed guidelines have been codified. So, in the absence of any codified law, proceedings under departmental enquiries are mainly governed by the principles of natural justice. However, principles of natural justice do not override the codified laws of the land.
AUDI ALTERAM PARTEM
One of the standards is that the person concerned must be given a fair and reasonable opportunity to defend himself. It means that no man should be condemned unheard and he has right to know the accusations levelled against him. He has also the right to know the premise on which such accusation is based, and a reasonable opportunity to adduce all relevant evidence in his defence. In many statutes, provisions are made ensuring that a notice is given to the person against whom an order is likely to be passed before a decision is taken, but some statutes may not contain such provisions. It is here that the rules of natural justice come to play their role.
In the case of Nagar Palika, Nataur Vs. U.P. Public Services Tribunal, Lucknow, 1998 SCC (L&S)567, despite reminders, the employee neither submitted reply to the charge sheet, nor appeared before the enquiry officer, and neither did he inspect the records, in spite of the opportunity given to him. In such cases, the findings of the enquiry officer on the basis of the available records that the charges were proved, was held not violative of the rules of natural justice. In the case of Ajit K Nag Vs. General Manager, Indian Oil Corporation (2005) 7 SCC 764, it was held that non-observance of principles of natural justice vitiates the order, only when some real prejudice is caused to the complainant by such omission. The said principles are now applied, having regard to the facts and circumstances in each case. Where the enquiry officer found one of the charges not proved, but without issuing a show cause notice, the disciplinary authority found even that charge to be proved, it was held that the rules of natural justice were definitely violated causing prejudice to the delinquent.
NEMO DEBET ESSE JUDEX IN PROPRIA CAUSA
The fundamental rule of natural justice in departmental proceedings is that the disciplinary authority should be impartial and free from bias. It must not be interested in or related with the cause which is being decided by him. The personal interest can be in the shape of some pecuniary benefit or some personal relation or even ill-will or malice or any official bias against any of the parties. The real test is whether a man of ordinary prudence would have a feeling of bias. In an important case of Mukhtar Singh Vs. State, AIR 1957 ALL 297, it was held that the hearing must be by an impartial tribunal, i.e. by a person who is neither directly nor indirectly interested in the case. One who has any interest in the litigation is already biased against the party concerned and the findings of such authority are liable to be struck down.
In the industrial dispute cases, the question of bonafides or mala fides of the employer carries importance. If it is shown that an employer was actuated by a desire to victimise a workman, that may in some cases introduce an infirmity in the order of the disciplinary authority. This is another reason why the enquiry in industrial matters should be held with scrupulous regard to the rules of natural justice. It should be noted that the enquiry officer cannot be the person who is himself a complainant or is related to any of the witnesses or the concerned employee, or has ill-will or malice against any of the person concerned.
A.K. Kraipak Vs. Union of India (AIR 1970 SC 150)
The principles of Natural Justice are very fundamental. They are regarded as very important part of the legal and Judicial procedures. It is a well known Rule that Justice should not only be done but manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done. That means that Judges cannot be suspected. They are required to be above or out of suspicion. Therefore, there arose a rule in Jurisprudence that No man (Judge) shall be a Judge in his own cause. In the present case, the Supreme Court held that a person who sits on a committee for selection of candidates for certain job must not be a Candidate himself for the Job. The logic is that Judges could be impartial and neutral. He must be free from any controversy, suspicion of bias in rendering Justice. A number of circumstances may give rise to personal bias. If a Judge be a relative, friend or business partner or associate he might have some personal grudge, enmity, professional rivalry against such party.
In the case of Dimes vs Grant Junction Canal, the suits were decreed by the vice-chancellor and the appeals against those decrees were filed in the court of lord chancellor Cottenham. The appeals were dismissed by him and decrees were confirmed in favour of the canal company in which he was a substantial shareholder. The court of lord chancellor, Qottenham agreed with the vice-chancellor and affirmed the decrees on merits. In fact, Lord Cottonham’s decision was not in any way affected his interest as a shareholder in future. But, the House of Lords quashed the decision of Lord Cottonham at the end. In India, however, there is no general statutory provision which requires the adjudicatory authority to give reasons for their decisions. The court on the basis of natural justice and some constitutional provisions impose a general obligation on the adjudicatory authorities to give reasons for their decisions. When the reasons for the decisions are not given to the person concerned or reasons are not given to the Court, the order will be quashed and the authority is directed by the Court to examine the matter afresh.
The principles of natural justice have been developed and followed by the judiciary to protect the right of the public against the arbitrariness of the administrative authorities. The concept that natural justice should at all stages guide those who discharge judicial functions is not merely an acceptable, but essential part of the philosophy of the law to secure justice or to prevent miscarriage of justice. It is important to note that any decision which violates natural justice would be found null and void, hence one must always bear in mind that the doctrine of natural justice is important for any administrative decision to be valid. The extent and application of the rules of natural justice cannot be imprisoned within the strait jacket of a rigid formula. The application of the doctrine depends upon the nature of the jurisdiction conferred on the administrative authority and upon the character of the rights of the person affected.