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Natural Justice: concept, meaning and principles
The following resource deals with the concept of Natural justice. It explains the basic principles, various kinds of biases, the concept of fair hearing, provisions in fair hearing and the requirements of natural justice in a detailed manner. The article concludes with a broad view on the relevance of natural justice and special cases where it cannot be claimed.
Law demands that anyone who enjoys the power to decide anything must conform to the basic principles of Natural Justice. These principles are mainly applicable to quasi judicial functions and administrative adjudications. It is the duty of the administrative authorities to comply with the minimum standards of natural justice. They are expected to act with fairness and in a just and equitable manner. These minimum standards or norms of judicial behavior are called the principles of natural justice.
The principles of natural justice are not tangible or embodied. They may vary as per circumstances. Fairness in procedures is the basic principle of natural justice. i.e., fair exercise of power by the authorities. Natural justice is a concept based on the natural feelings of human beings.
Though there are no express provisions in the statutes and rules, natural justice has certain essential ingredients.
1.Rule against Bias
The first principle of natural Justice is the rule against bias which means that the deciding authority must be impartial and neutral. Bias means a predisposition to decide 'for' or 'against' a party without proper regard to the true merits of the case. The rule against bias is based on the principle that no one should be a judge in his own cause and that justice should not only be done, but manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done. The rule against bias highlights that impartiality is a characteristic of good administration. Bias disqualifies a person from acting as a judge if he has any pecuniary or personal bias in the issue.
Biases are of various kinds.
a. Pecuniary bias
This bias arises from a monetary interest in the subject matter of the dispute. A pecuniary interest, however slight or insignificant will disqualify a person from acting as a judge even though it is proved that the decision is in anyway affected.
b. Personal Bias
This bias arises from relationships and friendships (either personal or professional) between the deciding authority and the parties. A judge may be a relative, friend, colleague or partner of one of the parties. He may have some personal grudge, enmity or professional disagreement against him. In such a case, there is the chance of him biased towards one party or prejudicial towards the other.
c. Subject matter bias
d. Departmental Bias
This bias arises mainly in administrative processes. In administrative adjudication, there will be a conflict between the policy formulated by the government and the rights or interests of individuals. For e.g.: an officer who is a part of the administrative machinery will reflect his interest in the implementation of government policies. But, in fact if the rule of departmental bias is strictly applied, no decision of any administrative authority would be a decision free from bias.
Fair hearing is the essence of natural justice. It includes an impartial adjudicator and a fair procedure. Any person of litigation must be given an opportunity to present his case. When a dispute arises between two parties, any person against whom an action is proposed to be taken should be given a reasonable opportunity to defend himself. If the decision is taken without giving an opportunity to be heard, it will be a violation of the principle of natural justice.
"Fair hearing' includes Notice, Right to produce evidence, Disclosure of evidence and opportunity to rebut and cross examine.
The principle of natural justice demands that before any action is taken, the affected party must be given a notice to show cause and to seek his explanation. A reasonable notice should contain the time, place, nature of hearing, legal authority, the jurisdiction under which the hearing is to be held and the matters of law and facts.
The notice must contain clear, specific and unambiguous grounds. I.e. the charges leveled should not be vague and uncertain. Notice is a must for fair hearing even if there is no provision in the statute for giving such a notice. An order passed without giving a notice is violation of the principles of natural justice and hence void.
b.Right to produce evidence
The right to produce evidence to prove one's arguments is an essential aspect of the process of fair hearing. If an opportunity to produce evidence is not given to a person he cannot prove the points favorable to him. But at the same time if the evidence sought to be produced by the party is immaterial or irrelevant to the case it cannot be allowed.
c. Disclosure or the right to know the evidence
The material on which the adjudicator relies upon to make a decision must be disclosed to the person to defend himself. The decision is to be taken on the basis of the evidence known to the affected person. But it does not mean that copies of all the documents should be made available to the party.
d. Opportunity to rebut and cross examine
Cross examination is one of the most effective methods to establish truth and to expose falsehood. Normally the denial of the right to cross examine the witness is considered as violation of the principle of natural justice. But the right to cross examine depends on the facts and circumstances of each case and on the statutory provisions.
Requirements of Natural Justice
The right to legal representation and the Right to get a reasoned decision are the two requirements widely accepted recently.
1. Right to legal representation
A party to an issue cannot defend his case himself if the issue involves complicated questions of law and facts. In such cases he needs the assistance of a lawyer. The right to legal representation is not an integral part of natural justice. But it becomes an implied right when there is no specific statutory provision and the matter is left to the discretion of the authority. In many countries other than India the right to legal representation is considered as a guaranteed right.
2. Reasoned decision
It is a generally accepted principle that administrative decisions must be accompanied by findings, conclusions as well as reasons or the basis, law, facts of discretion etc. The person against whom a decision is taken must get an opportunity to know why such a decision was taken.
The principle of natural justice was introduced to ensure fairness in administrative adjudication. But recently the scope and extent of the concept of natural justice has been widened and it became relevant with many other functions. The principle of natural justice imposes an obligation on the authority to act fairly. The failure to observe the principles of natural justice will make an order null and void.
Similarly there are certain exceptional circumstances when persons of disputes cannot claim natural justice. The rules of natural justice are flexible. They change with the exigencies of various situations. The requirement of natural justice cannot be claimed under certain statutory provisions like Legislative functions, emergency situations, public interest cases, impracticability, academic evaluations etc.
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|Author: Ramachandran Pattabiraman 29 Jul 2011||Member Level: Gold Points : 1|
|The position of persons sitting in the seat of Judge is really very sensitive as mentioned in the posting about the Natural justice. But in the present period, the situation of such seat is more critical as they have pressures from political and evilsome persons.|