Administrative Law

Natural Justice

The principle of reasonableness, which legally as well as philosophically is an essential ingredient of non-arbitrariness pervades Article 14 like a brooding omnipresence. The syllogism runs thus. Violation of a rule of natural justice results in arbitrariness which is the same as discrimination; where discrimination is the result of State action, it is a violation of Article 14; therefore, a violation of principles of natural justice by a State action is a violation of Article 14.

The principles of natural justice are now considered so fundamental as to be implicit in the concept of ordered liberty, and therefore, implicit in every decision making function, call it judicial, quasi-judicial or administrative. It is no doubt true that the principles of natural justice can be modified, and in exceptional cases they can even be excluded. It can be excluded where the nature of action taken, its object and purpose and the scheme of the provisions warrant its exclusion. It can be excluded where importing it would have the effect of paralysing the administrative process or where the need for promptitude or the urgency of taking action so demands.

Natural justice is riot a static concept. It is part of a judicial vocabulary in the administration of justice. It is not “extra legal”, though, it may be “extra legislative”. It is recognised as a guiding factor in administrative law, and forms the constitutional basis for judicial scrutiny of legislative and executive actions. It is the sense of justice that represents the ethics of judicial conscience. Rules of natural justice are not embodied; and their aim is to secure justice or to prevent miscarriage of justice.

Administrative action is not allergic to fairness in action in a democratic set up. Discretionary executive justice cannot degenerate into unilateral injustice. The exceptions to the rules are a misnomer or rather are but a shorthand form of expressing the idea that in those exculsionary cases nothing unfair can be inferred by not affording an opportunity to present or meet a case. It is untenably heresy to lock-jaw the victim or act behind his back by tempting invocation of urgency, unless the clearest case of public injury flowing from the least delay is self-evident. The cardinal principle cannot be sacrificed for the cause of administrative immediacy. The full panoply may not be there, but a manageable minimum may make-do. The competing claims of hurry and hearing (as Lord Reid put it is Wiseman v. Borneman 1971 AC 297 can be reconciled by making situational modification. Lord Denning in Howard v. Borneman (1974) 3 WLR 660:(1974) 3 All ER 862observed that no doctrinaire approach is desirable, but the Court must be anxious to salvage the cardinal rule to the extent permissible in a given case.

In this connection, it is worthwhile to quote certain passages from ‘Penumbra of Natural Justice’ by Tapash Gan Choudhary, wherein, at page 43, the learned Author has said thus :–

“The rules of natural justice should not be allowed to be exploited as a purely technical weapon to undo a decision which does not in reality cause substantial injustice. “The fact that the applicant has suffered no prejudice as a result of the error complained of may be a reason for refusing him relief. It is necessary to keep in mind the purpose of the public law principle that has technically been violated, and ask whether that underlying purpose has in any event been achieved in the circumstances of the case. If so, the Courts may decide that the breach has caused no prejudice and there is no need to grant relief.”

Natural justice, it must be kept in mind, is not a static concept. In the administration of justice it is part of a judicial vocabulary. It is recognised as a guiding factor in administrative law and forms the constitutional basis for judicial scrutiny of legislative and executive actions. The principles of natural justice may have to yield to the “demands of necessity” where the “jurisdiction is exclusive and there is no legal provision for calling a substitute”.

While, as a general rule, scrupulous adherence to the principles of natural justice is insisted upon, confinement of the principles within their proper limits has been favoured by the Courts. It has been suggested not to stretch the rules too far. Courts now-a-days are decrying any attempt to make unnatural expansion of natural justice and are warning against stretching the concept of justice to illogical and exasperating limits. The principles of natural justice should not be stretched to the ridiculous edge of opportunity at every stage. It must be pragmatically allowed fruitful play to meet the given fact situation. Natural justice unbound is as b ad as its being kept out of bounds. The Apex Court’s view in this context is very clearly focussed in Satyavir Singh’s case, where it observed that the ‘concept of natural justice is a magnificent thoroughbred on which this nation gallops forwards towards its proclaimed and destined goal of “justice, social, economic and political”. This thoroughbred must not be allowed to turn into a wild and untruly horse, careering off where it lists, unsaddling its rider and bursting into fields where the sign “no pasaran” is put up.

In the same book, at page 58, the circumstances under which Principles of Natural Justice could be excluded are also stated. Relevant portion reads thus :–

“It is well established both in England and in India that where a right to a prior notice and an opportunity to be heard before an order is passed would obstruct the taking of prompt action, such a right can be excluded. Thus, the rule may be discarded in an emergent situation where immediate action brooks no delay to prevent some imminent danger or injury or hazard to paramount public interests.”

It has been held in Union of India and Another Vs. Tulsiram Patel and Others, , that the principle of prior notice may not have any application if it would have the effect of paralysing the administrative process or where the need for promptitude or the urgency of taking action so demands.

8. The principle of natural justice will apply only in cases where the non-observance of the same will result in civil consequences.


Referred :

  1. SACHINDRA KUMAR SWAIN  Vs. THE STATE OF ORISSA [OHC] -(1995) AIR(Orissa) 224 : (1995) 1 OriLawRev 439 : (1995) 1 OriLR 439
  2. MANAGEMENT OF KARUR AGRICULTURAL PRODUCERS CO-OP. MARKETING SOCIETY LTD. Vs. STATE OF TAMIL NADU AND OTHERS [ (1999) AIR(Madras) 250]
  3. Union of India and Another Vs. Tulsiram Patel and Others, AIR 1985 SC 1416