Principles of Natural Justice – Meaning, Basics And Essential Components


“Justice should not only be done but seen to be done.”

This well-recognized principle is considered to be the very basis of the Administration of Justice’ system. Consequently, the establishment of the Concept of Natural Justice is considered to be one of the most essential elements in the administration of Justice’. Though this concept is not provided by the Constitution of India expressly, this is an indispensable part of it to ensure the Rights of the common people to get a ‘just and fair trial.’ ‘Equity’ and ‘equality’ – these two words are the basis of this concept.

The literal meaning of Natural Justice is ‘Jus Naturale’ which means ‘Law of Nature’. This is a technical terminology mostly used in the Common Law system. Though this concept has wide meanings and applications, it can be concisely said that it means ‘Duty to act fairly’.  It denotes the natural sense of humans to decide what is right and what is wrong and in a technical sense, it means fairness. Initially, the applications of this concept were only confined to deciding judicial matters.

When the concept of ‘Welfare State’ came, the powers of administrative authorities are increased and it became impossible for the laws to determine the fair procedures to be followed by each authority in the adjudication of disputes or any quasi-judicial proceedings. Thus time and again, the applications of this concept have been changed and it has become also an indispensable part of the administrative system in discharging the functions of the authorities.

The basic aim of the Principles of Natural Justice’ is to prevent the contempt of justice which means arbitrary actions of the Executive or Judicial bodies in exercising their administrative as well as judicial or quasi-judicial functions in administering justice. These principles always become very effective to protect the fundamental, legal, or constitutional rights of common people from the misuse of powers of the administrative or judicial, or quasi-judicial authorities.

The duties of the authorities must be to serve the people and exercise their powers for the welfare of common citizens. If any case, any of the authorities exercise its powers in such a way that is in violation of the basic aim of the Principles of Natural Justice, it will stand null and void. Thus, these principles evolved by the courts from time to time have become the safeguards against injustice and provide a remedy to the persons whose natural rights are violated by any acts of authority securing justice to the common citizens.

Now, if we discuss the basic principles in regard to establishing ‘Natural Justice’, their types and requirements, it will be easier to reach the fruitful conclusion of the topic- “Should the Requirement of Natural Justice be satisfied before a man is deprived of Life and Personal Liberty?”

The Basic Principles of Natural Justice:

According to traditional English law natural justice classified into two principles-

  1. Nemo judex in causa sua (rule against bias)
  2. Audi alteram partem (rule of fair hearing)

1. Nemo judex in causa sua (rule against bias):

The meaning of this principle is that ‘no one should be a judge in his/her own cause.’ Simply, it means that whenever any administrative or judicial, or quasi-judicial body exercises their power to perform their respective duties, they must act impartially. They should not have any interest in the matter. They should be impartial and neutral in adjudicating every matter and dispute which appears before them.

Thus, if a judge while discharging his/her judicial duty is found that he/she has an interest out of a matter or he/she is involved in a case which he/she is deciding, this principle disqualifies him/her to decide that particular case. This is because, when a person becomes involved in any matter or that person has some personal interest out of that particular matter, it is ordinarily not possible for the person to decide the matter impartially and it is natural that the decision will be biased. It is the same for administrative authorities also.

Whenever any authority is suspected to be biased in determining any case before them, that decision will not have any effect and will be treated as void. Thus this principle plays a significant role to prevent the authorities from acting partially in any matter and uphold the credibility of the institutions. There are the following types of bias-

i. Personal bias:

If any case, it is found that the decision-making authority has any personal relations with the parties involved in that case, the authority will not be able to act impartially and any decision derived from such cases will not be executed. Thus, if any case, the judge who is hearing a case is a friend or relative of any of the parties involved in that case or he/she has any other relation or rivalry with any of the parties involved in that case, will not be impartial and he/she may have some biased or prejudiced decision in that particular case. This type of bias is called ‘Personal Bias’. Any judgment derived from any such cases will be null and void.

In the case Mineral Development Corporation limited vs. State of Bihar, “here the petitioner was granted mining lease for 99 years in 1947. In 1953, the Secretary of revenue board issued a notice to the petitioners to show cause within 15 days as to why the license should not be canceled for violation by the petitioner of Sections 10, 12 and 14 of Mining Act.

The petitioner submitted a written reply denying the allegations. However, two years later, the Government quashed the license. The petitioner brought an action against the minister passing this order on the behalf of the government, on the ground that, the petitioner in 1952 opposed the minister in a general election. Therefore, on the account of political rivalry, the minister passed such an order, and hence the order was suffered from personal bias. Supreme Court found the allegation to be true and thus quashed the said order.”

ii. Pecuniary bias:

When the decision-making authority has any monetary or financial interest out of a matter which he/she is hearing, the authority is said to have ‘Pecuniary Bias’ in that particular matter. Thus if it is found in a judgment that the judge has passed judgment in favor of any of the parties involved in the case as that party has bribed him, the judgment will be treated as null and void. Similarly, if this bias is found in any case, the decision-making authority will be disqualified from acting in such cases.

In the landmark English case Dimes vs. Grand Junction Canal, a public limited company filed a suit against a landowner in matter largely involving the interest of the company. The Lord Chancellor who was a shareholder in the company decided the case and gave relief to the company. His decision was quashed by the House of Lords because there was a pecuniary interest of the Lord Chancellor in the Company.”

iii. Subject matter bias:

If it is found in any case that the deciding authority is himself involved in that same case which he/she is deciding, the authority will be partial and biased in deciding that matter, This type of bias is known as ‘Subject Matter Bias’ because the deciding authority has an interest with the Subject matter of the matter. The authority will also be disqualified from deciding that case.

In Gullampally Nageswara Rao vs. A.P.S.R.T.C., “the Apex Court held the decision of upholding the scheme of nationalization of motor transport by the Government Secretary to be invalid, due to his interest in the subject matter, as he was the one who had initiated the process of nationalization.”

2. Audi alteram partem (rule of fair hearing):

This is another principle of Natural Justice and it denotes ‘hear the other side’. The meaning of this principle in a simple sense is that both sides must be heard. In another sense, no man should be unheard of. As per this rule, in any hearing, both parties must have an equal opportunity to be heard.

No decision-making authority can decide any matter hearing only one side. No decision can be taken ex parte in the absence of the other party. Both parties must be judged with a fair hearing.

This principle is applicable in both administrative and judicial actions. The main purpose of this principle is to give both parties an equal opportunity of being heard with a just and fair hearing and they both must have equal opportunity to defend themselves in any hearing.

If a judge delivers his judgment only after getting pleased with the contentions and evidence of one party and doesn’t give sufficient scope to the other party so that they can also present their contentions and evidence, he can decide what is right but he would not have done what is right. Such types of decisions will not be executed as they are a violation of this principle. Thus this principle forms the very base of the ‘fundamental justice and equity’.

It ensures fair play and justice to the aggrieved as well as the opposite party. It was said by De Smith that “No suggestion can be more obviously settled than that a man can’t cause the loss of freedom or property for an offense by a legal continuing until he has had a reasonable chance of noting the body of evidence against him”.

The essential components of this principle are-

i. Notice:

A notice must be given to the opposite party before taking any action against them to provide them an opportunity to defend themselves and present their contentions before the court of law. If any order is passed by any court without giving any notice to the other party, the order violates this principle and it will be treated as void.

Before initiating a hearing, the other party must not be deprived of their right to know about the facts, causes, or charges against him/her under which the proposed actions are going to be taken. The notice must contain the time, date, place of hearing, the charges against him/her, and also the jurisdiction under which the case is filed. If anything is found to be absent in any notice, it will not be treated as valid.

“In the case of Punjab National Bank vs. All India Bank Employees Federation, the notice which was given to the party contain certain charges but it was not mentioned anywhere that penalty was imposed on the charges. Hence, the charges on which penalty was imposed were not served as a notice to the parties concerned. The notice was not proper and thus, the penalty which was imposed was invalid.”

ii. Hearing:

Both sides must be given the opportunity of fair hearing. The decision passed by a deciding authority without given reasonable opportunity of fair hearing to both parties, the decision will be treated invalid. This is considered to be one of the most essential components of this principle.

“In the case Fateh Singh vs. State of Rajasthan, it was held that if a person gets a reasonable opportunity of being heard or fair hearing it is an essential ingredient of the principle of ‘audi alteram partem’. This condition is accompanied by the authority providing written or oral hearing which is the discretion of the authority unless the statute under which action is taken by the authority provides otherwise. It is the duty of the authority to ensure that affected parties should get a chance of oral or personal hearing or not.”

iii. Evidence:

The evidence of both parties is undoubtedly considered to be the most essential component of this principle because, on the basis of that evidence, the judicial or quasi-judicial authorities will be deciding the case. Thus, both parties must be given equal opportunity to present their respective evidence before the deciding authorities. If it is found in any case where the evidence has not been gone through with equal importance or any of those evidence or any part of those have been overlooked by the deciding authorities, any decision derived from those hearing will be invalid.

“In the case Hiranath Misra vs. Rajendra Medical College, In this case, it was held that this principle is not restricted to the main formal evidence but any information regarding previous conviction on which court may rely without giving a chance to the affected party to deny it.”

iv. Representation by legal professionals:

In order to conduct a just and fair hearing, both the parties should be allowed to be represented by legal professionals of their own choice to present their contentions suitably before the deciding authorities. But, there are some types of cases like in administrative, inter-disciplinary proceedings or authoritative arbitration where the representation by legal professionals is not ordinarily necessary and such cannot be claimed as a matter of right if the same right is not given by any particular statute. Even though the statute is silent, if any special circumstances come where any of the parties in a proceeding will not be able to defend himself/herself properly, he/she can be allowed to be assisted with a legal advisor. Such a situation may arise when the affected party is illiterate or a question of law is involved or the matter is complicated or technical or where expert evidence is on record.

“In M.H Hoskot vs. State of Maharashtra, the apex court ruled that right to free legal aid at the cost of the state to an accused, who could not afford legal services by reasons of poverty, indigence or inability to communicate the situation, was part of fair, just and reasonable procedure implicit in Article 21. Free legal aid to the poor person has been declared to be a statutory duty and not governmental charity. This right not only arises at the commencement of trial but also attaches when he is for the first time produced before the Magistrate.”

v. Cross-examination:

The ambit of fear hearing also extends to the ‘Right of Cross-Examination’. It is an effective process to establish the truth and expose falsehood. The definition of Cross-examination has been given under Section 137 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. However, this may not be essential in every case so that this privilege must be given to the parties concerned.  If the fact and circumstances of any case demand that in absence of cross-examination of the witness, the party will not be able to defend himself/herself effectively, the cross-examination of witnesses may be granted by the deciding authorities.

“In the case of Kanungo & Co. vs. Collector of Customs, the business property of a person was investigated and some watches were seized by the police who were in power under the Sea Customs Act. A person who gave the information was not allowed for cross-examination. The principle of natural justice was not violated and the court held that principle of natural justice does not allow the concerned person to cross-examine against the witness in the matter where goods are seized under the Sea Custom Act.”

This principle of Natural Justice has the following exceptions:

  1. Statutory exclusions,
  2. Legislative functions,
  3. Academic evolutions,
  4. Impracticability,
  5. Inter-disciplinary actions.


In Union of India vs. Tulsiram Patel, the Apex Court held, “The essence of natural justice is good conscience in a given situation, nothing more or nothing less”.

As per the discussion of the topic regarding ‘Principles of Natural Justice’, it plays a vital role in the ‘Administration of Justice’. It was invented by the courts from time to time to protect the rights of common citizens from arbitrary use of powers by administrative, judicial, or quasi-judicial authorities and miscarriage of justice. In India, the ‘Principles of Natural Justice’ has been provided under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India. As per Article 14 of the Constitution of India-

“Equality before the law- The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India”.

As per Article 21 of the Constitution of India-

“Protection of life and personal liberty- No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law”.

With the introduction of substantive and procedural due process in Article 21, all the fairness which is included in the ‘Principles of Natural Justice’ can be read into Article 21. So, the answer to the main topic is that the requirements of ‘Natural Justice’ can be satisfied before a person whose Right to life and personal liberty, guaranteed by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution has been violated.

It is because the person whose Fundamental Right is infringed, can go to a High Court (under Article 226) or the Supreme Court (under Article 32) directly seeking Constitutional Remedies and the Court will decide the matter accordingly. After examining all facts and circumstances, the judges will decide the matter as per their ‘equity and good conscience’ keeping the ‘Principles of Natural Justice’ an integral part of ‘Right to life and personal liberty’.

They will not be biased in deciding his matter and he will be given adequate opportunity to present his contentions before them and he will not be unheard because in order to hold the decision of the adjudicating authorities as valid, ‘Principles of Natural Justice’ is equally important in the procedure and even if anything is found to be in contravention of this, it will be null and void.

Also Read – Right to Privacy in India: Evolution and Legal Analytical Study

Souvik Roychoudhury

An ambitious, earnest, and inquisitive 3rd Year Student of Law, hailing from West Bengal, India, pursuing BA.LL.B(Hons) course at SOA National Institute Law, SOA University, Bhubaneswar, Odisha- An avid lover of legal studies, research, and analysis, pertaining to diverse and dynamic areas of law- An assiduous writer unabashed in setting forth unbiased individual opinions based on own perspectives and perceptions, exploring different horizons of the different subjects of research - Special areas of interest include Indian Constitutional law, Criminal law, Human Rights and other areas of its similar kinds.

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