Judicial Dictionary

Real likelihood test

Real likelihood

In the case of S. Parthasarathi v. State of A.P., (1974) 3 SCC 459, this Court has applied the “real likelihood” test and restored the decree of the trial court which invalidated compulsory retirement of the Appellant by way of punishment. This Court observed:

. …We think that the reviewing authority must make a determination on the basis of the whole evidence before it, whether a reasonable man would in the circumstances infer that there is real likelihood of bias. The court must look at the impression which other people have. This follows from the principle that justice must not only be done but seen to be done. If right-minded persons would think that there is real likelihood of bias on the part of an inquiring officer, he must not conduct the enquiry; nevertheless, there must be a real likelihood of bias. Surmise or conjecture would not be enough. There must exist circumstances from which reasonable men would think it probable or likely that the inquiring officer will be prejudiced against the delinquent. The court will not inquire whether he was really prejudiced. If a reasonable man would think on the basis of the existing circumstances that he is likely to be prejudiced, that is sufficient to quash the decision….

In the case of Ranjit Thakur v. Union of India, (1987) 4 SCC 611, this Court has held:

15. …The test of real likelihood of bias is whether a reasonable person, in possession of relevant information, would have thought that bias was likely and whether Respondent 4 was likely to be disposed to decide the matter only in a particular way.

It is the essence of a judgment that it is made after due observance of the judicial process; that the court or tribunal passing it observes, at least the minimal requirements of natural justice; is composed of impartial persons acting fairly and without bias and in good faith. A judgment which is the result of bias or want of impartiality is a nullity and the trial ‘coram non judice’.

 As to the tests of the likelihood of bias what is relevant is the reasonableness of the apprehension in that regard in the mind of the party. The proper approach for the Judge is not to look at his own mind and ask himself, however, honestly, ‘Am I biased’; but to look at the mind of the party before him.

In the case of Secy. to Govt., Transport Deptt. v. Munuswamy Mudaliar, (1988) Suppl. SCC 651, this Court considered the question as to whether a party to the arbitration agreement could seek change of an agreed arbitrator on the ground that being an employee of the State Government, the arbitrator will not be able to decide the dispute without bias. While reversing the judgment of the High Court, which had confirmed the order of the learned Judge, City Civil Court directing the appointment of another person as an arbitrator, this Court observed:

reasonable apprehension of bias in the mind of a reasonable man can be a ground for removal of the arbitrator. A predisposition to decide for or against one party, without proper regard to the true merits of the dispute is bias. There must be reasonable apprehension of that predisposition. The reasonable apprehension must be based on cogent materials. See the observations of Mustill and Boyd, Commercial Arbitration, 1982 Edn., p.214. Halsbury’s Laws of England, 4th Edn., Vol. 2, para 551, p.282 describe that the test for bias is whether a reasonable intelligent man, fully apprised of all the circumstances, would feel a serious apprehension of bias.

In the case of R. v. Gough (1993) 2 All ER 724 (HL), the House of Lords while applying the “real likelihood” test, by using the expression “real danger”, has observed thus:

…In my opinion, if, in the circumstances of the case (as ascertained by the court), it appears that there was a real likelihood, in the sense of a real possibility, of bias on the part of a justice or other member of an inferior tribunal, justice requires that the decision should not be allowed to stand. I am by no means persuaded that, in its original form, the real likelihood test required that any more rigorous criterion should be applied. Furthermore the test as so stated gives sufficient effect, in cases of apparent bias, to the principle that justice must manifestly be seen to be done, and it is unnecessary, in my opinion, to have recourse to a test based on mere suspicion, or even reasonable suspicion, for that purpose.

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