Monday 6 August 2012

principles of natural justice -rule of fair hearing

Natural Justice - Rule Of Fair Hearing

In India, there is no particular statute, laying down the minimum standard, which the administrative bodies must follow while exercising their decision making powers. There is, therefore, a bewildering variety of administrative procedure. In some cases, the administrative procedure is controlled by the statute under which they exercise their powers1. But in some cases, the administrative agencies are left free to device their own procedure2. But the courts have several times reiterated that the administrative agencies must follow a minimum of fair procedure, while exercising their powers. This fair procedure is called the principles of natural justice.
The principles of natural justice have been developed by the courts, in order to secure fairness in the exercise of the powers by the administrative agencies. The principles of natural justice are the Common Law counterpart of the ‘due process of law’ in the Constitution of the United States. However wide the powers of the state and however extensive discretion they confer, the administrative agencies are always under the obligation to follow a manner that is procedurally fair.
In a case before the United States Supreme Court, a JACKSON J. said: ‘Procedural fairness and regularity are of the indispensable essence of liberty. Severe substantive laws can be endured if they are fairly and impartially applied’3.
‘The doctrine of natural justice seeks not only to secure justice but also to prevent miscarriage of justice’4. The norms of natural justice are based on two ideas:
  1. audi alteram partem,- the person, who has to be effected by a decision has a right to be heard; and
  2. nemo judex in re sua – the authority deciding the matter should be free from bias.

However the applicability of the principles of natural justice depends upon the facts and circumstances of each case5.
In India, the Supreme Court has reiterated that the principles of natural justice are neither rigid nor they can be put in a straight jacket but are flexible. In the case of R. S. Dass v. Union of India6 , the Supreme Court observed that:
It is well established that rules of natural justice are not rigid rules, they are flexible and their application depends upon the setting and background of statutory provisions, nature of the right which may be affected and the consequences which may entail, its application depends upon the facts and circumstances of each case”.
The reason for the flexibility of natural justice is that the concept is applied to a wide spectrum of the decision-making bodies.
The project focuses on the rule of fair hearing, which is one of the essential rules of the Natural Justice.
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. Natural Justice implies fairness, reasonableness, equity and equality. It is the concept of the Common Law, which stands on the same footing as the concept of “procedural due process” of America. According to HEGDE J., the aim of natural justice is to secure justice; to prevent miscarriage of justice and to give protection to the public against the arbitrariness.
  • Roman law. In Roman law the concept of natural justice consists of two essential rules:
  1. audi alteram partem,- the person, who has to be effected by a decision has a right to be heard; and
  2. nemo judex in re sua – the authority deciding the matter should be free from bias.

  • Common law. From the medieval era, the English Common Law consists of the principles of natural justice. The rules requiring impartial adjudications and fair hearings can be traced back to the medieval precedents and indeed they were not unknown in the ancient world. In Dr. Bonham's Case (1610)7, COKE J. held that an Act of the Parliament is void if it makes a person judge in his own cause or was otherwise against common right or reason. Coke then made the following general statement:
And it appears in our books, that in many cases, the common law will control acts of parliament, and sometimes adjudge them to be utterly void: for when an act of parliament is against common right and reason, or repugnant, or impossible to be performed, the common law will control it, and adjudge such act to be void; and, therefore, in ... Thomas Tregor's case [Judge] Herle said, some statutes are made against law and right, which those who made them perceiving, would not put them in execution…”
But the year 1963 proved to be watershed in the development of concept of natural justice in common law world. With the expansion of the administrative process, the wide abuse of the power of the administrative authorities became evident. In the case of Ridge v. Baldwin8 , the applicability of natural justice to the quasi-judicial bodies took place. Ridge v. Baldwin is regarded as the Magna Carta of natural justice. The judgment of LORD REID widened the ambit of natural justice.
  • Position in India. Article 14, 19, 21 of the Indian Constitution lay down the cornerstone of natural justice in India. In the case of E P Royappa v. State of Tamilnadu9 , the apex court held that a properly expressed and authenticated order can be challenged on the ground that condition precedent to the making of order has not been fulfilled or the principles of natural justice have not been observed. In another landmark case of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India10 , the apex court held that law which allows any administrative authority to take a decision affecting the rights of the people, without assigning the reason for such action, can not be accepted as a procedure, which is just, fair and reasonable, hence violative of Articles 14 and 21.
The maxim audi alteram partem accentuates the rule of fair hearing. It lays down that no one should be condemned unheard. It is the first principle of the civilised jurisprudence that a person facing the charges must be given an opportunity to be heard, before any decision is taken against him. Hearing means ‘fair hearing’.
The norms of reasonableness of opportunity of hearing vary from body to body and even case to case relating to the same body. The courts, in order to look into the reasonableness of the opportunity, must keep in mind the nature of the functions imposed by the statute in context of the right affected11. The civil courts, in India, are governed in the matter of proceedings, through the Civil Procedure Code and the criminal courts, by the Criminal Procedure Code as well as the Evidence Act. But the adjudicatory bodies functioning outside the purview of the regular court hierarchy are not subject to a uniform statute governing their proceedings.
The components of fair hearing are not fixed but are variable and flexible. Their scope and applicability differ from case to case and situation to situation12. In Mineral Development v. State of Bihar13, the apex court observed that the concept of fair hearing is elastic and not susceptible of a precise and easy definition. The hearing procedures vary from the tribunal, authority to authority and situation to situation. It is not necessary that the procedures of hearing must be like that of the proceedings followed by the regular courts.
The objective of the giving the accused an opportunity of fair hearing is that an illegal action or decision may not take place. Any wrong order may adversely affect a person. The maxim implies that the person must be given an opportunity to defend himself. LORD HEWART rightly observed that “ it is merely of some importance, but is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seem to be done”14. In this regard the Dr. Bentley case15 needs to be elaborately discussed. In this case the Court of King’s Bench condemned the decision of the Cambridge University, of canceling the degree of the scholar, without giving him the opportunity to be reasonably heard.
In another landmark case of Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corpn.16 , the court held that even if the legislature authorises the administrative action, without any hearing, the law would be violative of the principles of fair hearing and thus violative of Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution. In Cooper v. Wandsworth Board of Works17 , BYLES J. observed that the laws of God and man both give the party an opportunity to defend himself. Even God did not pass a sentence upon Adam before he was called upon to make his defence.
Law envisages that in the cases classified as ‘quasi-judicial’, the duty to follow completely the principles of natural law exists. But the cases which are classified as the ‘administrative’, the duty on the administrative authority is to act justly and fairly and not arbitrarily. In the 1970 case of A. K. Karaipak v. Union of India18, the Supreme Court made a statement that the fine distinction between the quasi-judicial and administrative function needs to be discarded for giving a hearing to the affected party. Before the Karaipak’s case, the court applied the natural justice to the quasi-judicial functions only. But after the case, the natural justice could be applied to the administrative functions as well.
  1. Right to notice. The term ‘Notice’ originated from the Latin word ‘Notitia’ which means ‘being known’. Thus it connotes the sense of information, intelligence or knowledge. Notice embodies the rule of fairness and must precede an adverse order. It should be clear enough to give the party enough information of the case he has to meet. There should be adequate time for the party, so that he can prepare for his defence. It is the sine qua non of the right of hearing. If the notice is a statutory requirement, then it must be given in a manner provided by law. Thus notice is the starting point in the hearing. Unless a person knows about the subjects and issues involved in the case, he cannot be in the position to defend himself.
The notice must be adequate also. Its adequacy depends upon the case. But generally, a notice, in order to be adequate must contain following elements:
  • Time, place and nature of hearing.
  • Legal authority under which hearing is to be held.
  • Statements of specific charges which the person has to meet.
The test of the adequacy of the notice will be whether it gives the sufficient information and material so as to enable the person concerned to prepare for his defence. There should also be sufficient time to comply with the requirements of a notice. Where a notice contains only one charge, the person cannot be punished for the charges which were not mentioned in the notice19.
The requirement of notice can be dispensed with, where the party concerned clearly knows the case against it and thus avails the opportunity of his defence. Thus in the case of Keshav mills Co. Ltd. v. Union of India20, the court upheld the government order of taking over the mill for a period of 5 years. It quashed the argument of the appellants that they were not issued notice before this action was taken, as there was the opportunity of full-scale hearing and the appellant did not want to know anything more.
  1. Right to know the evidence against him. Every person before an administrative authority, exercising adjudicatory powers has right to know the evidence to be used against him. The court in case of Dhakeshwari Cotton Mills Ltd. v. CIT21, held that the assessee was not given a fair hearing as the Appellate Income Tax tribunal did not disclose the information supplied to it by the department. A person may be allowed to inspect the file and take notes.
  1. Right to present case and evidence. The adjudicatory authority must provide the party a reasonable opportunity to present his case. This can be done either orally or in written. The requirement of natural justice is not met if the party is not given the opportunity to represent in view of the proposed action.
Courts have unanimously held that the oral hearing is not an integral part of the fair hearing, unless the circumstances call for the oral hearing. In Union of India v. J P Mitter22, the court refused to quash the order of the President of India in respect of the dispute relating to the age of a High Court judge. It was held that where the written submission is allowed, there is no violation of natural justice, if the oral hearing is not granted.
  1. Right to cross-examination. The right to rebut adverse evidence presupposes that the person has been informed about the evidence against him. Rebuttal can be done either orally or in written, provided that the statute does not provide otherwise. Cross examination is a very important weapon to bring out the truth. Section 33 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1972, provides for the rights of the parties to cross-examin. The cross-examination of the witnesses is not regarded as an obligatory part of natural justice. Whether the oppoetunity of cross examination is to be give or not depends upon the circumstances of the case and statute under which hearing is held. State of Jammu and Kashmir v. Bakshii Ghulam Mohd.23 , the Government of Jammu and Kashmir appointed a Commissioner of Inquiry to inquire into the charges of corruption and maladministration against the ex-Chief Minister of the state. He claimed the right to cross-examin the witnesses on the ground of natural justice. The Court interpreted the statute and held that only those witnesses who deposed orally against the chief Minister can be cross-examined and not of those who merely filed affidavits.
Similarly, in Hira nath mishra v. Rajendra medical College, Ranchi24, some male students of medical college entered the girls hostel and misbehaved with the girls. An enquiry committee was set up against whom the complaints were made. The complainants were examined but not in presence of the boys. On the report of the committee, four students were expelled from the college. They challenged the decision of the committee on the ground of violation of the natural justice. The court rejected the plea and held that in presence of the boys, the girls can not be cross-examined that that may expose them to the harassment.
  1. Right to counsel. For sometime the thinking had been that the lawyers should be kept away from the administrative adjudication, as it saves time and expense. But the right to be heard would be of little avail if the counsel were not allowed to appear, as everyone is not articulate enough to present his case. In India few statutes like the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, specifically bar the legal practitioners from appearing before the administrative bodies.
Till recently the view was that the right to counsel was not inevitable part of the natural justice. But this view has been almost done away with.
The natural justice forms the cornerstone of every civilized legal system. It is not found in the codified statutes. But it is inherent in the nature. Being uncodified, the natural justice does not have a uniform definition. However, it lays down the minimum standard that an administrative agency has to follow in its procedure. Where the legal justice fails, the role of natural justice becomes evident in preventing the miscarriage of justice. Even God never denied the natural justice to the human beings. So the human laws also need to be in conformity with the rules of natural justice.
The rule of fair hearing must be followed to prevent the miscarriage of justice. If an accused is punished unheard, the purpose of law is defeated. The adjudicatory authority does not know whether the accused is innocent or not. What if the accused is punished unheard and later he turns out to be an innocent? Before taking any action the adjudicatory authority has to keep in mind the several considerations.
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