Judicial Dictionary

Quasi-judicial inquiry

The horizon of natural justice is constantly expanding. The question how far the principles of natural justice govern administrative enquiries came up for consideration before the Queens Bench Division in re H. K. (An Infant), 1967-2 QB 617 at page No. 630. Therein the validity of the action taken by an Immigration Officer came up for consideration.

In the course of his judgment Lord Parker, C. J. observed thus:

“But at the same time, I myself think that even if an immigration officer is not in a judicial or quasi-judicial capacity, he must at any rate give the immigrant an opportunity of satisfying him of the matters in the sub-section, and for that purpose let the immigrant know what his immediate impression is so that the immigrant can disabuse him. That is not, as I see it, aquestion of acting or being required to act judicially, but of being required to act fairly. Good administration and an honest or bona fide decision must, as it seems to me, require not merely impartiality, nor merely bringing one’s mind to bear on the problem, but acting fairly; and to the limited extent that the circumstances of any particular case allow and within the legislative frame-work under which the administrator is working, only to that limited extent do the so-called rules of natural justice apply, which in a case such as this is merely a duty to act fairly. I appreciate that in saying that it may be said that one is going further than is permitted on the decided cases because heretofore at any rate the decisions of the courts do seem to have drawn a strict line in these matters according to whether there is or is not a duty to act judicially or quasi-judicially”.

In the same case Blain, J. observed thus:

“I would only say that an immigration officer having assumed the jurisdiction granted by those provisions is in a position where it is his duty to exercise that assumed jurisdiction whether it be administrative, executive or quasi-judicial, fairly, by which I mean applying his mind dispassionately to a fair analysis of the particular problem and the information available to him in analysising it. If in any hypothetical case, and in any real case, this court was satisfied that an immigration officer was not so doing, then in my view mandamus would lie”.

In State of Orissa vs. Dr. (Miss) Binapani Dei, (1967) 2 SCR 625 Shah, J. speaking for the Court, dealing with an enquiry made as regards the correct age of a government servant, observed thus:

“We think that such an enquiry and decision were contrary to the basic concept of justice and cannot have any value. It is true that the order is administrative in character, but even an administrative order which involves evil consequences as already stated, must be made consistently with the rules of natural justice after informing the first respondent of the case of the State……”

The aim of the rules of natural justice is to secure justice or to put it negatively to prevent miscarriage of justice. These rules can operate only in areas not covered by any law validly made. In other words they do not supplant the law of the land but supplement it. The concept of natural justice has undergone a great deal of change in recent years. In the past it was thought that it included just two rules, namely (1) no one shall be a judge in his own cause (Nemo debet esse jndex propria cause), and (2) no decision shall be given against a party without affording him a reasonable hearing (Audi alter partem). Very soon thereafter a third rule was envisaged and that is that quasi-judicial enquiries must be held in good faith without bias and not arbitrarily or unreasonably But in the course of years many more subsidiary rules came to be added to the rules of natural justice. Till very recently it was the opinion of the courts that unless the authority concerned was required by the law under which it functioned to act judicially there was no room for the application of the rules of natural justice. The validity of that limitation is not questioned. If the purpose of the rules of natural justice is to prevent miscarriage of justice one fails to see why those rules should be made inapplicable to administrative enquiries. Often times it is not easy to draw the line that demarcates administrative enquiries from quasi-judicial enquiries.

Enquiries which were considered administrative at one time are now being considered as quasi-judicial in character. Arriving at a just decision is the aim of both quasi-judicial enquiries as well as administrative enquiries. An unjust decision in an administrative enquiry may have more far reaching effect than a decision in a quasi-judicial enquiry. As observed by Supreme  Court in Suresh Koshy George vs. University of Kerala, Civil Appeal No. 890 of 1968, D/- 15-7-1968 the rules of natural justice are not embodied rules. What particular rule of natural justice should apply to a given case must depend to a great extent on the facts and circumstances of that case, the frame-work of the law under which the enquiry is held and the constitution of the Tribunal or body of persons appointed for that purpose. Whenever a complaint is made before a court that some principle of natural justice had been contravened the court has to decide whether the observance of that rule was necessary for a just decision on the facts of that case.

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Quasi-judicial act

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