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  • Sahil Singh

Exploring the Evolution of Natural Justice: From the Past to the Present

Sahil Singh

2nd year, BBA LLB (Hons.) 

Alliance University

Relevance Principles of Natural Justice in the Past and Present

Introduction:

The term ‘natural justice’ refers to the ideals of the common law that are the procedural norms relating to the making of legal and administrative decisions. It adds legitimacy to the decisions which might otherwise smell of arbitrariness and deny justice in the process of adjudication. As a system of adjudication, the principles of natural justice have undergone changes due to changes in the Indian jurisprudence. This article examines the concept of natural justice as it unfolds through its time in different social, cultural, and political backgrounds in India, highlighting its evolution with prominent case laws.

Historical Context and Evolution:

The notion of natural justice has long stood embedded in various ancient civilisations. The concept of dharma as justice is an enshrined mantra of ancient Indian legal traditions, therefore the requirement of natural justice has always found a place in India. The British common law principles of natural justice that got transplanted into the Indian legal system are certainly very significant, but their importance solely stems from their ability to mirror and lend greater credence to Indian perceptions.[i]

The two most fundamental canons of natural justice are Audi Alteram Partem (“hear the other side”) and Nemo Judex in Causa Sua (“no one should be judge in his own cause”). The second assures that no one is a party to a procedure in which he is also a judge.

➢ Early Application in Indian Jurisprudence- 

One of the leading cases that has guided natural justice in India was Ridge v. Baldwin (1964)[ii] in the UK where natural justice found significance in administrative decision-making. The House of Lords asserted that natural justice principles must be applied to administrative decisions. 

In India the concept of justice saw development in the case of A.K. Kraipak, v. Union of India (1969)[iii]. The Supreme Court of India stressed that there is a line between an action and a quasijudicial action and the principles of natural justice are applicable to both scenarios. This legal matter revolved around the selection process for the Indian Forest Service, where it was discovered that one of the selectors was also a candidate. The Court determined that this breached the principle of nemo judex in causa sua.

Key Principles of Natural Justice: 

•      Audi Alteram Partem

The principle of audi alteram partem ensures that no one is judged without being given a chance to present their side. It signifies that any individual impacted by a decision has the right to voice their perspective.[iv] Various legal cases have upheld this principle.

In the case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India (1978)[v] the Supreme Court broadened the scope of justice. When Maneka Gandhis passport was confiscated without affording her an opportunity to be heard the Court declared that legal procedures must be "right, just and fair" and must adhere to principles of justice. This case represented a shift towards an interpretation of Article 21 in the Constitution, which safeguards individuals right, to life and personal liberty.

•      Nemo Judex in Causa Sua

The principle of "Nemo Judex, in Causa Sua" states that individuals should not preside over cases in which they have a stake promoting fairness and impartiality, in making decisions.

Regarding pecuniary offence of cheating the Hon’ble Supreme Court, in State of U. P. v. Mohd. Nooh (1958)[vi], in what appeared as a departmental inquiry against a police constable, one of the officers involved in the inquiry had acted as a witness in the other side of the case of the constable in question. The Supreme Court set aside the inquiry proceedings, they being unconstitutional, null and void for having been in breach of the principles of natural justice.

Contemporary Relevance and Application 

Even in today’s scientific and detailed system of administration and constitution, principles of natural justice are not irrelevant. They have been affirmed and implemented in various settings to make sure that equity in the delivery of justice still holds dear in the criminal justice system.

➢  Administrative Decisions- 

Natural justice is one of the important facets in administrative law in checking for arbitrary conduct. Entitlement of the subjects to fairness is the principle of natural justice. Thus, to the extent that law has not made it for only the administrative actions, the court held in Union of India v. Tulsiram Patel (1985)[vii] that natural justice must be implied. The case related to the disciplinary proceedings against the government employees especially stressing on the legal procedures that needs to be complied with. 

➢  Judicial Review- 

Natural justice can be applied in judicial review in a bid to check administrative action if the latter departs from the principles of fairness. Intestifying on this in Swadeshi Cotton Mills v. Union of India (1981)[viii], the Court averred that the right to be heard is part of the rule of law. The case featured the nationalization of Swadeshi Cotton Mills and referring to the government to have denied the mills a chance to defend themselves as a transgression of natural justice.

➢  Human Rights and Civil Liberties 

Human rights and civil liberties are rights that people carry in their bodies and cannot be traded because they are part of people’s lives.[ix] Natural justice hence applies to human rights and civil liberties as well as they are a crucial part of the law. 

In the case of Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation (1985)[x], follow to pavement dwellers evictions the Supreme Court recognized that the right to be heard arose from Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The Court further declared that even if the premises was to be surrendered through eviction notice, the aforesaid persons had to be first offered an audience.

➢  Regulatory Frameworks

Since Regulatory bodies oriented toward enforcing standards, it is now clear that principles of natural justice are important in their functions. In Sahara India Real Estate Corp. Ltd. & Ors v. Securities & Exchange Board Of India & Anr (2012)[xi], the Apex court also stressed on the supreme principle of reasonableness in regulation making. The case showed that other players affected by the activities of the firm in question should be allowed an opportunity to speak before any decision on penalties by the authorities is made.

Challenges and Criticisms: 

However, getting applied in India, the principle of natural justice has its share of problems and criticisms - 

❖  Delays in Justice

Some of the criticisms are that performing natural justice leads to the slowing down of the process in the administration of justice. The call for extensive hearings, and that fair procedures must always be followed may act as a hindrance to speedy determination of cases and this is especially so where the case is sensitive.

❖  Exclusions by Statute

For a long time, there have been times when statutes have been passed that exclude natural justice principles. This is with regard to a particular set of circumstances, for instance, in some security and emergencies, natural justice may not apply. The difficultly here is distinguishing the timely response to the situation from betrayal of equity.

❖  Balancing Efficiency and Fairness

Some of the most acute issues still relate to the optimization of benefits distribution and the work with the values of fairness. In Charan Lal Sahu v. Union of India (1990)[xii] regarding Bhopal Gas Tragedy the Court had to address two com_vis argument justice delayed is justice denied and victims right to be heard. The settlement procedure was seen as involving little detailed hearings which are seen as concerns some of the adequacy of the natural justice principles in mass torts. 

The Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of R. K. Anand Vs. Registrar, Delhi High Court (2009)[xiii] also put check on the pendulum of natural justice for the reason of delay in proceedings. The case involved the proceedings of contempt of court and what the Court said is that while so much is being done in the practice of the right to natural justice, it should not use in the way that it is relied on to be mere facade in the affairs of justice.

Conclusion: 

The need for these principles of natural justice is reflected in the Constitution of India, making them an eternal and binding part of the country’s legal landscape. Their long-standing history, their longevity in modern legal jurisprudence and continuous reinforcement by the Indian judiciary through landmark judgments all play a role in the significance and importance they continue to hold. Courts continue to remind of their constant necessity in administrative, judicial, and quasi-judicial proceedings.

Therefore, it is important to note that there remains a certain idealism and relevance of the values represented by natural justice in societies. It is a system that checks and balances the actions of the state, making sure that their decisions are fair and not prejudice against one’s rights as a citizen. While India moves up the ladder of development, natural justice will remain a vibrant part of legal reformism as it remains a struggle for a society that is maturing towards a responsive administration that is robust enough to deliver justice without instigating partiality.

References:

[i] A.Subasri M.L., Evolution and Significance of Natural Justice – An Analysi, Volume 11,  IJCRT, 963, 964, (2023).

[ii] Ridge v. Baldwin, (1964) AC 40

[iii] A.K. Kraipak, v. Union of India, AIR 1970 SUPREME COURT 150

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

[vi] State of U. P. v. Mohd. Nooh, 1958 AIR 86

[vii] Union of India v. Tulsiram Patel , AIR 1985 SC 1416

[viii] Swadeshi Cotton Mills v. Union of India, 1981 AIR 818

[ix] Justice Brijesh Kumar, PRINCIPLES OF NATURAL JUSTICE, J.T.R.I. JOURNAL – First Year, Issue – 3 - Year – July – September, 1995. (https://ijtr.nic.in/articles/art36.pdf) 

[x] Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation, 1985 SCC (3) 545

[xi] Sahara India Real Estate Corp.Ltd.& Ors vs Securities & Exch.Board Of India & Anr, AIR 2012 SUPREME COURT 3829

[xii] Charan Lal Sahu v. Union of India, 1990 AIR 1480

[xiii] R. K. Anand Vs. Registrar, Delhi High Court, (2009) 8 SCC 106

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