Principles of Natural Justice: Administrative Law Notes

Principles of Natural Justice: Administrative Law Notes- Prolawctor

Principles Of Natural Justice

The concept of natural justice is the backbone of law and justice. In the quest for justice the principles of natural justice have been utilized since the dawn of civilization. Principles of natural justice trace their ancestry to ancient civilization and centuries long past. Initially natural justice was conceived as a concomitant of universal natural law. Judges have use natural justice as to imply the existence of moral principles of self evident and unarguable truth. To justify the adoption, or continued existence, of a rule of law on the ground of its conformity to natural justice in this sense conceals the extent to which a judge is making a subjective moral judgment and suggests on the contrary, an objective inevitability.

Natural Justice used in this way is another name for natural law although devoid of at least some of the theological and philosophical overtones and implications of that concept. This essential similarity is clearly demonstrated by Lord Esher M.R’s definition of natural justice as, “ the natural sense of what right and wrong.” 1 ( Voinet v Barrett, (1885) 55, L.J. Q. B, 39, 41). Most of the thinkers of fifteenth to eighteenth century considered natural law and justice as consisting of universal rules based on reason and thus were immutable and inviolable. The history of natural law is a tale of the search of mankind for absolute justice and its failure. Again and again in the course of the last 2500 years the idea of natural law has appeared in some form or the other, as an expression for the search for an ideal higher than positive law.(W.G. Friedman, Legal Theory 95. 5th ed. 1967).


Greek thinkers laid the basis for natural law. The Greek philosophers traditionally regarded law as
closely to both justice and ethics

Roman society was highly developed commercial society and Natural law played a creative and constructive role, thereby jus civil, was adopted to meet new demands.

Similarly in the middle Ages, the Christian legal philosophy, considered natural law founded on reasons and a reflection of eternal laws. In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the authority of church was challenged and natural law was based on reason and not divine force.

The use of natural law ideas in the development of English law revolves around two problems: the idea of the supremacy of law, and, in particular, the struggle between common law judges and parliament for legislative supremacy on one hand, and the introduction of equitable considerations of “Justice between man and man” on the other. The first ended in a clear victory for parliamentary supremacy and the defeat of higher law ideas; the latter, after a long period of comparative stagnation, is again a factor of considerable influence in the development of the law.

A number of cases are evidenced with the beginning of seventeenth century wherein a statute was declared void and not binding for not being inconformity with the principles of Natural Justice. The concept of natural justice can be traced from Biblical Garden of Eden, as also from Greek, Roman and other ancient cultures like Hindu. The Vedic Indians too were familiar with the natural theory of law. The practice of confining the expression natural justice to the procedural principles (that no one shall be judge in his own case and both sides must heard) is of comparatively recent origin and it was always present in one way or the other form. The expression was used in the past interchangeably with the expressions Natural Law, Natural enquiry, the laws of God, Sampan jus and other similar expressions. (H.H. Marshall, Natural Justice 5 (1959) London). Thus, the widespread recognition, in many civilizations and over centuries the principle of natural justice belong rather to the common consciousness of the mankind than to juridical science.

CONCEPTUAL FORMULATION
A comprehensive definition of natural justice is yet to be evolved. However, it is possible to enumerate with some certainty the main principles constituting natural justice in modern times. English and Indian courts have frequently resorted to such alternatives to natural justice as “fair play in action”, (Ridge V. Baldwin, (1963) 2 all E.R. 66; Wisemen V. Borneman (1969), 3 all E.R. 215; Mohinder Singh Gill V. Chief Election Commissioner, A. I. R 1978 S.C. 851.) Common fairness, (R.V. Secretary of State for the Home Department, exp. Hose ball, (1977) 1 W.L..R 766, 784). or the fundamental principles of a fair trail.(Tameshwar V The Queen, (1957) A. C. 476-486; Maneka Gandhi V Union of India A. I. R 1978 S.C 597).

In Spackman’s case, (Spackman V. Plumstead District Board of Works, (1885) 10 App case 229, 240). Earl of Selborne, L.C observed that no doubt in the absence of special provisions as to how the person who is to decide is to proceed, the law will imply no more than that the substantial requirements of justice shall not be violated. He is not the judge in the proper sense of the word but he must give the parties an opportunity of being heard before him and stating their case and their view. There would be no decision within the meaning of the statute, if there were anything of that sort done contrary to essence of justice. Emphasizing for observance of natural justice again is Lesson’s case, (LessonV. General Council of Medical Education (1889) US Ch. D 366, 383. Brown C.J using the term ‘natural justice’ stressed that the statute imparts that substantial element of natural justice must be found to have been present at the enquiry. The accused person must have notice of what he is accused and must be given an opportunity of being heard.

The courts took these procedural safeguards in the past among different words. Conveying meaning i.e. the eternal justice or natural justice. The list of the words is long which were as :

  • Substantial justice;
  • The essence of justice;
  • Fundamental justice;
  • Universal justice and
  • Rational justice etc.

So the term natural justice has very impressive ancestry and has been retained all over the world with some modifications. The very basic thing, which emerges from it, is. Fairness in the administration of justice, more than any other legal principle is not susceptible to concise definition. It has a different meaning in different countries. History and tradition shape and distort it. To judge these divergent procedures according to a common standard of fairness is therefore no easy matter. What fair means will surely irritate governments and plague jurists. Fair hearing, some say it constitutes as fifth freedom supplementing freedom of speech and religion, freedom from want and fear.
Robert Jackson, J., remains us that procedural fairness and regularity are of indispensable essence of liberty. The concept of natural justice is not fixed one but has been changing from time, keeping its spirit against tyranny and injustice. Despite the many appellations applied to it and the various meanings attributed to it, through the ages, one thing remains constant. It is by its very nature a barrier against dictatorial power and therefore has been and still is an attribute of an civilized community that aspires to preserve democratic freedom. ( Rene Dussault, “Judicial Review of Administrative Action in Quebec,” Can Bar Rev. 79 (1967). The concept of natural justice is flexible and has been interpreted in many ways to serve the ends of justice. Thus the doctrine of natural justice is the result of a natural evolution.

Natural Justice is rooted in the natural sense of what is right and wrong. It mandates the Adjudicator or the administrator, as the case may be, to observe procedural fairness and propriety in holding/conducting trail, inquiry or investigation or other types of proceedings or process.

The object of Natural Justice is to secure Justice by ensuring procedural fairness. To put it
negatively, it is to prevent miscarriage of Justice.

  • The term “Natural Justice” may be equated with “procedural fairness” or “fair play in action”.
  • It is concerned with procedure and it seeks to ensure that the procedure is just, fair and
  • reasonable.
  • It may be regarded as counterpart of the American “Due Process”.

Co-relationship between Law and Natural Justice.

  • Law is the means, Justice is the end. Law may be substantive as well as procedural.
  • Natural Justice also aims at Justice. It, however, concerns itself only with the procedure. It seeks to secure justice by ensuring procedural fairness. It creates conditions for doing justice.
  • Natural justice humanizes the Law and invests the Law with fairness.
  • Natural Justice supplements the Law but can supplant the Law.
  • Natural Justice operates in areas not specifically covered by the enacted law. An omission in statute, likely to deprive a procedure of fairness, may be supplied by reading into the relevant provision the appropriate principle of Natural Justice.

Exceptions to Natural Justice
Though the normal rule is that a person who is affected by administrative action is entitled to claim natural justice, that requirement may be excluded under certain exceptional circumstances.


Statutory Exclusion: The principle of natural justice may be excluded by the statutory provision. Where the statute expressly provides for the observance of the principles of natural justice, the
provision is treated as mandatory and the authority is bound by it. Where the statute is silent as to the observance of the principle of natural justice, such silence is taken to imply the observance thereto. However, the principles of natural justice are not incapable of exclusion. The statute may exclude them. When the statute. When the statute expressly or by necessary implication excludes the application of the principles of natural justice the courts do not ignore the statutory mandate. But one thing may be noted that in India, Parliament is not supreme and therefore statutory exclusion is not final. The statute must stand the test of constitutional provision. Even if there is not provision under the statute for observance of the principle of natural justice, courts may read the requirement of natural justice for sustaining the law as constitution.

Emergency: In exceptional cases of urgency or emergency where prompt and preventive action is
required the principle of natural justice need not be observed. Thus, the pre-decisional hearing may be excluded where the prompt action is required to be taken in the interest of the public safety or public morality, e.g., where a person who is dangerous to peace in the so morality e.g. Where a person who is dangerous to peace in the society is required to be detained or extended or where a building which is dangerous to the human lives is required to be demolished or a trade which is dangerous to the society is required to be prohibited, a prompt action is required to be taken in the interest of public and hearing before the action may delay the administrative action and thereby cause injury to the public interest and public safety. Thus in such situation dine social necessity requires exclusion of the pre-decisional hearing. However, the determination of the situation requiring the exclusion of the rules of natural justice by the administrative authorities is not final and the court may review such determination.

Bhagwatil J, for majority referring to audi alteram partem which mandates that no one shall be
condemned unheard, remarked: “Natural justice is a great humanizing principle intended to invest law with fairness and to secure justice and ever the year it has grown into a widely pervasive rule affecting large areas of administrative action. Thus the soul of natural justice is fair play in action and that is why it has received the widest recognition throughout the democratic world. In the United States, the right to an administrative bearing is regarded as essential requirement of fundamental fairness and in England too it has been held that fair play in action demands that before any prejudicial or adverse action is taken against a person he must be given an opportunity to be heard.”

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