9 Jul 2010

Audi Alteram Partem: Natural Justice revisited

'Audi Alteram Partem', the Latin expression well ingrained in the common law legal system translated in English means 'no one should be condemned unheard. It is one of the three basic principles of natural justice, it has come a long way since it first found favour before the English Courts since the inception of the common law system. 

The Supreme Court in Uma Nath Pandey v. State of U.P. AIR 2009 SC 2375 explained the concept in the following terms;

6. Natural justice is another name for commonsense justice. Rules of natural justice are not codified canons. But they are principles ingrained into the conscience of man. Natural justice is the administration of justice in a commonsense liberal way. Justice is based substantially on natural ideals and human values. The administration of justice is to be freed from the narrow and restricted considerations which are usually associated with a formulated law involving linguistic technicalities and grammatical niceties. It is the substance of justice which has to determine its form.
7. The expressions “natural justice” and “legal justice” do not present a water-tight classification. It is the substance of justice which is to be secured by both, and whenever legal justice fails to achieve this solemn purpose, natural justice is called in aid of legal justice. Natural justice relieves legal justice from unnecessary technicality, grammatical pedantry or logical prevarication. It supplies the omissions of a formulated law. As Lord Buckmaster said, no form or procedure should ever be permitted to exclude the presentation of a litigants’ defence. 
8. The adherence to principles of natural justice as recognized by all civilized States is of supreme importance when a quasi-judicial body embarks on determining disputes between the parties, or any administrative action involving civil consequences is in issue. These principles are well settled. The first and foremost principle is what is commonly known as audi alteram partem rule. It says that no one should be condemned unheard. Notice is the first limb of this principle. It must be precise and unambiguous. It should appraise the party determinatively the case he has to meet. Time given for the purpose should be adequate so as to enable him to make his representation. In the absence of a notice of the kind and such reasonable opportunity, the order passed becomes wholly vitiated. Thus, it is but essential that a party should be put on notice of the case before any adverse order is passed against him. This is one of the most important principles of natural justice. It is after all an approved rule of fair play. The concept has gained significance and shades with time. When the historic document was made at Runnymede in 1215, the first statutory recognition of this principle found its way into the “Magna Carta”. The classic exposition of Sir Edward Coke of natural justice requires to “vocate, interrogate and adjudicate”. In the celebrated case of Cooper v. Wandsworth Board of Works [(1863) 143 ER 414], the principle was thus stated: 
“Even God did not pass a sentence upon Adam, before he was called upon to make his defence. “Adam” says God, “where art thou? hast thou not eaten of the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat”.
9. Since then the principle has been chiselled, honed and refined, enriching its content. Judicial treatment has added light and luminosity to the concept, like polishing of a diamond.
10. Principles of natural justice are those rules which have been laid down by the Courts as being the minimum protection of the rights of the individual against the arbitrary procedure that may be adopted by a judicial, quasi-judicial and administrative authority while making an order affecting those rights. These rules are intended to prevent such authority from doing injustice.
11. What is meant by the term ‘principles of natural justice’ is not easy to determine. Lord Summer (then Hamilton, L.J.) in Ray v. Local Government Board (1914) 1 KB 160 at p.199:83 LJKB 86) described the phrase as sadly lacking in precision. In General Council of Medical Education & Registration of U.K. v. Sanckman (1943 AC 627: (1948) 2 All ER 337), Lord Wright observed that it was not desirable to attempt ‘to force it into any procusteam bed’ and mentioned that one essential requirement was that the Tribunal should be impartial and have no personal interest in the controversy, and further that it should give ‘a full and fair opportunity’ to every party of being heard.
12. Lord Wright referred to the leading cases on the subject. The most important of them is the Board of Education v. Rice (1911 AC 179:80 LJKB 796), where Lord Loreburn, L.C. observed as follows: 
“Comparatively recent statutes have extended, if they have originated, the practice of imposing upon departments or offices of State the duty of deciding or determining questions of various kinds. It will, I suppose usually be of an administrative kind, but sometimes, it will involve matter of law as well as matter of fact, or even depend upon matter of law alone. In such cases, the Board of Education will have to ascertain the law and also to ascertain the facts. I need not and that in doing either they must act in good faith and fairly listen to both sides for that is a duty lying upon everyone who decides anything. But I do not think they are bound to treat such a question as though it were a trial....The Board is in the nature of the arbitral tribunal, and a Court of law has no jurisdiction to hear appeals from the determination either upon law or upon fact. But if the Court is satisfied either that the Board have not acted judicially in the way I have described, or have not determined the question which they are required by the Act to determine, then there is a remedy by mandamus and certiorari”.
13. Lord Wright also emphasized from the same decision the observation of the Lord Chancellor that the Board can obtain information in any way they think best, always giving a fair opportunity to those who are parties to the controversy for correcting or contradicting any relevant statement prejudicial to their view”. To the same effect are the observations of Earl of Selbourne, LO in Spackman v. Plumstead District Board of Works (1985 (10) AC 229:54 LJMC 81), where the learned and noble Lord Chancellor observed as follows:
“No doubt, in the absence of special provisions as to how the person who is to decide is to proceed, law will imply no more than that the substantial requirements of justice shall not be violated. He is not a judge in the proper sense of the word; but he must give the parties an opportunity of being heard before him and stating their case and their view. He must give notice when he will proceed with the matter and he must act honestly and impartially and not under the dictation of some other person or persons to whom the authority is not given by law. There must be no malversation of any kind. There would be no decision within the meaning of the statute if there were anything of that sort done contrary to the essence of justice”.
14. Lord Selbourne also added that the essence of justice consisted in requiring that all parties should have an opportunity of submitting to the person by whose decision they are to be bound, such considerations as in their judgment ought to be brought before him. All these cases lay down the very important rule of natural justice contained in the oft-quoted phrase 'justice should not only be done, but should be seen to be done’. 
15. Concept of natural justice has undergone a great deal of change in recent years. Rules of natural justice are not rules embodied always expressly in a statute or in rules framed thereunder. They may be implied from the nature of the duty to be performed under a statute. What particular rule of natural justice should be implied and what its context should be in a given case must depend to a great extent on the fact and circumstances of that case, the frame-work of the statute under which the enquiry is held. The old distinction between a judicial act and an administrative act has withered away. Even an administrative order which involves civil consequences must be consistent with the rules of natural justice. Expression ‘civil consequences’ encompasses infraction of not merely property or personal rights but of civil liberties, material deprivations, and non-pecuniary damages. In its wide umbrella comes everything that affects a citizen in his civil life.
16. Natural justice has been variously defined by different Judges. A few instances will suffice. In Drew v. Drew and Lebura (1855(2) Macg. 1.8, Lord Cranworth defined it as ‘universal justice’. In James Dunber Smith v. Her Majesty the Queen (1877-78(3) App.Case 614, 623 JC) Sir Robort P. Collier, speaking for the judicial committee of Privy council, used the phrase ‘the requirements of substantial justice’, while in Arthur John Specman v. Plumstead District Board of Works (1884-85(10) App.Case 229, 240), Earl of Selbourne, S.C. preferred the phrase ‘the substantial requirement of justice’. In Vionet v. Barrett (1885(55) LJRD 39, 41), Lord Esher, MR defined natural justice as ‘the natural sense of what is right and wrong’. While, however, deciding Hookings v. Smethwick Local Board of Health (1890 (24) QBD 712), Lord Fasher, M.R. instead of using the definition given earlier by him in Vionet’s case (supra) chose to define natural justice as ‘fundamental justice’. In Ridge v. Baldwin (1963(1) WB 569, 578), Harman LJ, in the Court of Appeal countered natural justice with ‘fair-play in action’ a phrase favoured by Bhagawati, J. in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India (1978 (2) SCR 621). In re R.N. (An Infant) (1967 (2) B 617, 530), Lord Parker, CJ, preferred to describe natural justice as ‘a duty to act fairly’. In Fairmount Investments Ltd. v. Secretary to State for Environment (1976 WLR 1255) Lord Russell of Willowan somewhat picturesquely described natural justice as ‘a fair crack of the whip’ while Geoffrey Lane, LJ. In Regina v. Secretary of State for Home Affairs Ex Parte Hosenball (1977 (1) WLR 766) preferred the homely phrase ‘common fairness’.
17. How then have the principles of natural justice been interpreted in the Courts and within what limits are they to be confined? Over the years by a process of judicial interpretation two rules have been evolved as representing the principles of natural justice in judicial process, including therein quasi-judicial and administrative process. They constitute the basic elements of a fair hearing, having their roots in the innate sense of man for fair-play and justice which is not the preserve of any particular race or country but is shared in common by all men. The first rule is ‘nemo judex in causa sua’ or ‘nemo debet esse judex in propria causa sua’ as stated in (1605) 12 Co.Rep.114 that is, ‘no man shall be a judge in his own cause’. Coke used the form ‘aliquis non debet esse judex in propria causa quia non potest esse judex at pars’ (Co.Litt. 1418), that is, ‘no man ought to be a judge in his own case, because he cannot act as Judge and at the same time be a party’. The form ‘nemo potest esse simul actor et judex’, that is, ‘no one can be at once suitor and judge’ is also at times used. The second rule is ‘audi alteram partem’, that is, ‘hear the other side’. At times and particularly in continental countries, the form ‘audietur at altera pars’ is used, meaning very much the same thing. A corollary has been deduced from the above two rules and particularly the audi alteram partem rule, namely ‘qui aliquid statuerit parte inaudita alteram actquam licet dixerit, haud acquum facerit’ that is, ‘he who shall decide anything without the other side having been heard, although he may have said what is right, will not have been what is right’ (See Bosewell’s case (1605) 6 Co.Rep. 48-b, 52-a) or in other words, as it is now expressed, ‘justice should not only be done but should manifestly be seen to be done’.


Vasundhra said...

what a litigant can do if the apex court itself do not follow the principles of natural justice where it did not allow(by saying we do not want to hear you) the petitioner present in the court to speak/argue to counter the statement made by the respondent and without any further argument dismissed the SLP and that too solely basing the order on the respondent(govt.)few words statement. No reason what so ever was stated in the order. Is it justice ?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Vasundhra, the weak, will continue to be subjugated and not only in our country but the world over. However we need not be pessimistic as the times are changing like in the Tata Tea advertisement "Jagorae". Lets all get together to make the world & country more beautiful.

Michael Arnold said...

Courts are also creatures of statute . . . with authority to preside only over matters between natural and juristic persons.
In civil matters, where, for example, a "company" has been issued with a certificate of incorporation, in a circumstance where the law expressly forbids incorporation . . . should the court still be obliged to hear the other side once it is presented with the statute and it is convinced that the Registrar of Companies acted ultra vires.