CIVIL

Principles of natural justice

SUPREME COURT

Keynotes : the person affected must have reasonable opportunity of being heard and the hearing must be a genuine hearing and not an empty public relations exercise.

Bidhannagar (Salt Lake) Welfare Vs Central Valuation Board and Ors[SC 2007]

Principles of natural justice are based on two basic pillars:

(i) Nobody shall be condemned unheard (audi alteram partem)

(ii) Nobody shall be judge of his own cause (nemo debet esse judex in propria sua causa)

44. Duty to assign reasons is, however, a judge made law. It is considered to be a third pillar. [See Reliance Industries Ltd. v. Designated Authority and Others, 2006 AIR SCW 4911]

Chief Security Officer and Ors. v. Singasan Rabi Das [(1991) 1 SCC 729], stating that principle of natural justice cannot be dispensed with on mere ipse dixit. [See also Tarsem Singh v. State of Punjab and Ors. (Civil Appeal No.1489 of 2004), decided on 25th January, 2006; Prithipal Singh v. State of Punjab and Ors., (2006) 11 SCALE 28 and Indian Airlines Ltd. v. Prabha D. Kanan [(2006) 12 SCALE 58]

In Swadeshi Cotton Mills v. Union of India [(1981) 1 SCC 664], this Court held:

“44. In short, the general principle – as distinguished from an absolute rule of uniform application – seems to be that where a statute does not, in terms, exclude this rule of prior hearing but contemplates a post-decisional hearing amounting to a full review of the original order on merits, then such a statute would be construed as excluding the audi alteram partem rule at the pre-decisional stage. Conversely, if the statute conferring the power is silent with regard to the giving of a pre-decisional hearing to the person affected and the administrative decision taken by the authority involves civil consequences of a grave nature, and no full review or appeal on merits against that decision is provided, courts will be extremely reluctant to construe such a statute as excluding the duty of affording even a minimal hearing shorn of all its formal trappings and dilatory features at the pre-decisional stage, unless, viewed pragmatically, it would paralyse the administrative progress or frustrate the need for utmost promptitude. In short, this rule of fair play “must not be jettisoned save in very exceptional circumstances where compulsive necessity so demands”. The court must make every effort to salvage this cardinal rule to the maximum extent possible, with situational modifications. But, to recall the words of Bhagwati, J., the core of it must, however, remain, namely, that the person affected must have reasonable opportunity of being heard and the hearing must be a genuine hearing and not an empty public relations exercise.”