NATURAL JUSTICE under Administrative Law

One of the most important principles in the administration of justice is that justice must not only be done but also seen to be done. This is necessary to inspire
One of the most important principles in the administration of justice is that justice must not only be done but also seen to be done. This is necessary to inspire
Natural Justice
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One of the most important principles in the administration of justice is that justice must not only be done but also seen to be done. This is necessary to inspire confidence in the people in the judicial system. Natural justice is a concept of Common Law and represents procedural principles developed by judges.


Natural justice is an ethico-legal concept which is based on natural feeling of Human Being. Rules of natural justice have developed with the growth of civilization and the content thereof is often considered as a proper measure of the level of civilization and Rule of Law prevailing in the community. It is great principle of humanisation which informs law and procedure with fairness and impartiality.

“Natural justice” has meant many things to many writers, lawyers and systems of law including an approximate synonym for divine law, and also a form of jus gentium or the common law of nations.

Natural justice is an ideal element in administrative law. In this sense, natural justice is known as natural law, universal law, divine justice, universal justice, or “fair play in action”.

Principles of Natural Justice

Principles of natural justice are not precise rules of unchanging content; their scope varies according to the context. Nevertheless, it provides the foundation on which the whole super- structure of judicial control of administrative action is based. In India, the principles of natural justice are derived from Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution. The courts have always insisted that the administrative agencies must follow a minimum of fair procedure, i.e. principles of natural justice. The principle of natural justice includes –

  1.  Nemo judex in causa sua.-No man shall be Judge in his own cause or the deciding authority must be impartial and without bias–Rule against Bias.
  2. Audi alteram partem : Hear the other side, or both sides must be heard, or no man should be condemned unheard or that there must be fairness on the part of deciding authority Rule of hearing or fair hearing.
  1. Nemo judex in causa sua.-Rule against Bias
  2. General.

The first principle of natural justice is rule against bias. It means that the deciding authority must be impartial and neutral. That bias disqualifies an individual from acting as Judge flows from two principles:

  • No one should be a Judge in his own cause ; and
  • Justice should not only be done but seen to be done. Proceedings before a deciding authority may be vitiated if he is biased or has his own interest in the case before him. Franks has rightly observed that the rule against bias is justified on the ground that impartiality is a characteristic of good administration.
  • Meaning of Bias.

A predisposition to decide for or against one party without proper regard to the true merits of the dispute is bias.

Principle explained

It is well settled principle of law that justice should not only be done but be seen to be done. Justice can never be seen to be done if a man acts as a judge in his own cause or is himself interested in its outcome. This principle is applicable not only to judicial proceedings but also to quasi judicial as well as administrative proceedings.

 Bias can be of the following three types:

  • Pecuniary – The judicial approach is unanimous on the point that any financial interest of the adjudicatory authority in the matter, howsoever small, would vitiate the adjudication. Thus a pecuniary interest, howsoever insufficient, will disqualify a person from acting as a Judge.

“In Bonham Case,  Dr. Bonham, a Doctor of Cambridge University was fined by the College of Physicians for practicing in the city of London without the license of the College. The statute under which College acted provided that the fines should go half to the King and half to the College. Adjudicating upon the claim, Coke, C.J., disallowed the claim as the College had a financial interest in its own judgment and was Judge in its own cause.

Dimes v. Grand Junction Canal  is regarded as the classic example of pecuniary bias. In this case, a public limited company filed a suit against a land owner in matter largely involving the interests of the Company. The Lord Chancellor who was a Shareholder in the Company decided the case and gave to the company the relief which was claimed. His decision was quashed by the House of Lords because the pecuniary interest of the Lord Chancellor in the Company. Lord Campbell observed that no one could suppose that the Lord Chancellor was in the remotest degree influenced by the interest that he had in the concern. But it is of the last importance that the maxim, that no one is to be judge in his own cause, should be held sacred.

In India also, the same principle is accepted.

In Visakapatnam Co-op. Motor Transport Ltd. v. Bangaruraju 1953, a cooperative society wanted a permit. The Collector was the President of that society and at the same time he was also Chairman of the Regional Transport Authority granting permit in favor of the society. The decision was quashed by the Court as it was in violation of the principles of natural justice.

The same was position in Annamalai v. State of Madaras 1957,  where one of the members of the Regional Transport Authority issued a permit in his own favor.

Afterwards he transferred the same permit in favor of his son-in-law. However, the Court quashed the order as it was against natural justice.

  • Personal – There are number of situations which may create a personal bias in the Judge’s mind against one party in dispute before him. He may be friend of the party, or related to him through family, professional or business ties. The judge might also be hostile to one of the parties to a case. All these situations create bias   either in favour of or against the party and will operate as a disqualification for a person to act as a Judge.

in Mineral Development Ltd. v. State of Bihar 1960, the petitioners were granted mining licence for 99 years in 1947. But the Minister who had political rivalry with the petitioners cancelled the licence. This action of the government was challenged on the ground of personal bias. The challenge was accepted by the Court and it was held that there was personal bias against the petitioners and the Minister was disqualified from taking any action against the petitioners.

In Meengless Tea Estate v. Workmen 1963, the Manager conducted an inquiry against a workman for the allegation that he had beaten the Manager.

The Supreme Court held that the inquiry was vitiated because of personal bias. In D.K. Khanna v. Union of India , the selection of the candidate was cancelled on the ground of personal bias as the Selection Committee selecting him consisted of his son-in-law as a member.

A.K . Kripak vs.Union of India 1969:

In 1966, a service called The Indian Forest Service was constituted, the selection for which was to be made from among the officers serving in the forest department of the state. Section 3 of the All India Services Act, 1951 provides that the Central Government shall after consulting the Government of the States concerned including that of Jammu and Kashmir to make rules for the regulation of recruitment and the conditions of the service of persons appointed to those All India Services through selection board.

The selection Board was to be headed by the Chief Conservator of the Forest of the State while the final selections were to be made by the Union Public Service Commission (U.P.S.C).

In the State of Jammu and Kashmir, a person by the name of Naquishbund was appointed as the acting Chief Conservator of forest. And was also heading as ex officio chairman of the board. He was also a candidate for selection to the Indian Foreign Service which is to be selected by the same special board.

However he did not sit on the Selection Board when his name was considered. Naquishbund was recommended by the Board and he was selected by the Public Service Commission. The candidates who were not selected challenged the selection of Naquishbund on the ground that principles of natural justice were violated. The Supreme Court quashed the selection and observed : “It is against all canons of justice to make a man Judge in his own cause. It is true that he did not participate in deliberations of the Committee when his name was considered. But then the very fact that he was member of the Selection Board must have its own impact on decision of the Selection of the Board.

  • Subject matterA judge may have a bias in the subject matter, which means that he himself is a party, or has some direct connection with the litigation. To disqualify on the ground of bias there must be intimate and direct connection between adjudicator and the issues in dispute. R.v. Deal Justice exparte Curling 1981, Magistrate was not held disqualified for trying a case of cruelty to an animal on the ground that he was a member of the Royal Society for prevention of cruelty to animals because this did not create a real likelihood of bias.

Similar was the decision in Murlidhar v. Kadam Singh 1964, the Chairman of an Election Tribunal was not declared disqualified from deciding the dispute relating to the petitioner’s election on the ground that the Chairman’s wife was member of Congress Party whose candidate the petitioner had defeated.

However, proceedings were invalidated on ground of subject-matter bias in Gullapalli Nageshwar Rao v. A.P. S.R.T. 1959, In this case the Supreme Court quashed the decision of Andra Pradesh Government, which Nationalised Road Transport, on the ground that the Secretary of the Transport Department who gave hearing was interested in the subject-matter.

Subject Matter Bias can further be classified into –

  1. Partiality or connection to the issue
  2. Departmental bias
  3. Prior utterances and pre-judgment of issues
  4. Acting under dictation
  • Audi alteram partem : Rule of Hearing.

Rule of fair hearing (audi alteram partem): The second principle of natural justice is audi alteram partem (hear the other side) i.e. no one should be condemned unheard. It requires that both sides should be heard before passing the order. The audi alteram partem rule means that no one should be condemned unheard.

In short, the principle is that before an order is passed against any person reasonable opportunity of being heard must be afforded to him.  Following are the ingredients of the rule of fair hearing:

  1. Right to notice: Hearing starts with the notice by the authority concerned to the affected person. Unless a person knows the case against him, he cannot defend himself. Therefore, before the proceedings start, the authority concerned is required to give to the affected person the notice of the case against him. The proceedings started without giving notice to the affected party, would violate the principles of natural justice.

The notice must give sufficient time to the person concerned to prepare his case. The notice must be adequate and reasonable. The notice is required to be clear and unambiguous.

  • Adequacy of Notice. – It is not enough that notice in a given case be given, it must be adequate also. The question of adequacy of notice depends upon the facts and circumstances of each case. However, a notice in order to be adequate must contain the following
  • Time, place and nature of hearing.
  • Legal authority and jurisdiction under which hearing is to be held.
  • Matters of fact and Law as regards charges.

The adequacy of the notice may vary according to the nature of the proceedings, but it is a question for the court to determine. Natural justice is violated where the charges are vague and no materials are disclosed to explain them.

Number of cases, proceedings have been quashed because of inadequacy of notice. For example, in J. Vilangandan v. Executive Engineer, the Executive Engineer proposed to blacklist a contractor. He gave a notice to him. But the Supreme Court found that notice was inadequate as it did not contain words to indicate clearly to the contractor that it was proposed to debar him as defaulter from taking any contract in future under the Department

  • Reasonable opportunity. -Moreover, the notice must give a reasonable opportunity to comply with the requirements mentioned in it. Thus, to give 24 hours time to dismantle a structure alleged to be in a dilapidated condition is not proper and the notice is not valid. Where a notice of one charge has been given, the person cannot be punished for a separate charge of which he had no notice, even though he may not have appeared to defend himself against the original charge.

In State of Madhya Pradesh and others v. Makers Development Service Pvt. Ltd 1994, the High Court declared the entire Act invalid without issuing notice or calling upon the State Government to file its counter. The Supreme Court held that the order of the High Court was liable to be set aside.

  • Hearing

The second requirement of the audi alteram partem maxim is that the party concerned must be given an opportunity of being heard before any adverse action is taken against him.

In the leading case of Cooper v. Wandsworth Board of Works, 1863, the Board had power to demolish any building without giving an opportunity of hearing if it was erected without prior permission. The Board issued order under which the house of the plaintiff was demolished. The action was brought against the Board because it had used that power without giving the owner an opportunity of being heard. Although the action of the Board was not in violation of the statutory provision, the Court held that the Board’s power was subject to the qualification that no man can be deprived of his property without having an opportunity of being heard.

In Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, the passport of the petitioner was impounded by the Government of India ‘in public interest. No opportunity was afforded to the petitioner before taking the impugned action. The Supreme Court held that the order was violative of the principles of natural justice.

In Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation, under the statute the Commissioner was empowered for removal of construction without notice. However, the Court held that it was merely an enabling provision and not a command not to issue notice before demolition of structure. The discretion was, therefore, required to be exercised according to the principles of natural justice. In the same way when admissions were given to certain students, but the candidates who were so admitted were not impelled as parties , The court ruled that their admissions were not to be cancelled behind their back.



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