Rule Against Bias: Principles of Natural Justice

Rule Against Bias: Principles of Natural Justice


The word “natural justice” signifies some fundamental rules of judicial procedure. It is the concept of English common law which is closely related to the Roman law “Jus Natural”. According to Lord Widgery, “the principles of natural justice were those fundamental rules, the breach of which will prevent justice from being seen to be done.” Natural Justice has also been seen as a synonym for divine law and a part of jus gentium, which is common law of nations. The Supreme Court in Union of India v. Tulsi Ram Patel observed that through a process of judicial interpretation over the years, there are two rules that evolved as representatives of the principles of natural justice in judicial process including quasi-judicial and administrative processes. They form up the basic elements of fair hearing, their roots are found in the inherent sense of man for fair play and justice, which is not sustainable for any particular race or country but shared commonly by all men.

Natural Justice in simple words means to take a sensible and reasonable decision in a particular situation or an issue. The reasonable decision is not a necessity in many cases, what is necessary is the procedure which was followed while making the decision and those people who were involved in making that reasonable decision. Every administrative decision which can have adverse civil consequences against a citizen or citizens of the country, the authority responsible for making such decision has a duty to record reasons because fair play and fairness should be treated as fundamental principles of good-administration to have a check on the misuse and abuse of power given to the modern State. Recording of reasons will prevent arbitrary or unreasonable decision of administrative authority to some limit.


The Principles of Natural Justice are developed like many other legal concepts as elective. Before the evolution of natural justice, some cases were dealt with deprivation of officers, requiring notice and a hearing prior to the deprivation. Other cases were concerned with clergy penalties or disciplinary steps, of which the clergy were subjected, had to pave the way for notice and hearing.

In the nineteenth century the rule of audi alteram partem was applied to different range of bodies, both private and public. It involved clubs, associations and trade unions. In the case of Manohar Manikrao Anchal v. State of Maharashtra, the Supreme Court observed that, principle of natural justice should be applied in administrative issues. The Court further said that it is important for adjudicatory process to be in accordance with the principle of natural justice, which also includes the doctrine of audi alterem partem, and hearing of the parties and recording of reasonable decision are some important elements of natural justice.

The first case through which the principles of natural justice evolved in the English Common Law was Ridge v. Baldwin, the House of Lords for the first time discussed about the three reasons by which one can apply the principles of natural justice while making a decision in a particular matter, where reasonable approach is necessary. Their Lordships observed that the Chief Minister who was dismissed only for a reason had a right to receive the notice of charge and right to be heard before being dismissed. Their Lordships explained the three reasons were-

  • First, the natural justice could have applied within a limit in the context of the wider duties or discretion imposed upon a minister; however the judges applied these limited opinions of natural justice to other fields where the constraints were not needed.
  • Second, the principle got limited application only during the war. Again special deliberations which might be appropriate during wartime should not affect the ambit of natural justice.
  • Third, the confusion between rights and remedies allegedly required for a super added duty to act judicially as a requirement of certiorari, the way that it has slitted the development of natural justice. The judicial element should be applied from the nature of the power and its effect on the person.

This case holds great importance as their Lordships revived the principles of natural justice in two manners. On one hand they revived the nineteenth century jurisprudence where these principles had applied in a broad spectrum of interests and also different types of decision makers involved in it. While on the other hand they disapproved various types of norms which were prevalent in the twentieth century. The need of lis inters parties and super added duty of acting judicially were said to be false limitations.

Position of Natural Justice in Common Law

The common law advocates have used the word with reference to two important principles, namely:-

(1) audi alteram partem;

(2) nemo judex in causa sua (no one can be a judge in his own cause).

According to Prof. Wade, “the rules requiring impartial adjudicators and fair hearing can be traced back to medieval percents, and indeed, they were regarded as part of the immutable order of things, so that in theory even the power of the Legislature could not alter them. This theory lingered into the seventeenth and faintly even into the eighteenth century, though by then it was incompatible with the modern theory of parliamentary sovereignty which was supplanting the old ideas.”

In Dr. Bonham’s case, the Chief Justice in 1610 said that the court could declare an Act of Parliament as void if the judge involved had his own cause or was against common right and reason. But solidification of parliamentary sovereignty in England, natural justice was considered as a part of old fundamental and unalterable law. They were no longer known as representatives of any kind of limit to the power of statute.

Rules of Natural Justice

There are two rules of natural justice which are discussed in detail below-

1) Nemo Judex In Causa Sua

 “No one should be a judge in his own case”. It is the rule of biases. Bias is an act which can end up in to unfair activity whether consciously or unconsciously in context of the party or a particular matter. This is the reason of the rule to make judge unbiased and give judgement on the grounds of evidence investigated in a case.

There are Six types of Bias, they are as follows-

1. Personal Bias– When a judge has some personal or intimate relation with one of the party to the case, it can lead the judge in a situation where he can take decision which can be contrary to the rule against bias. If any relation comes in the light, then the judge should be prevented from taking decision and if already decision has been taken, it must be declared void. If someone wants to challenge the administrative action on the pretext of personal bias, it is compulsory to give a reasonable reason for bias.

In Ramanand Prasad Singh vs. Union of India, the Supreme Court held that although the petitioner had his brother as one of the members of the selection committee in the competition, yet the whole selection procedure cannot be declared as void. The person who has such a close relation with the participant can be asked to leave the committee in order to make a fair and reasonable decision.

2. Pecuniary Bias– If the person involved in decision making in a judicial procedure has some financial interest in the case, no matter how big or small the interest is will lead to this kind of biases. In R. V. Hendon Rural District Council, Ex parte charley, a company sued a landowner. The judge, Lord Chancellor was a shareholder of the plaintiff company. He gave decision in favour of the company. The House of Lords quashed this decision and stated that no man shall be judge in his own cause.

3. Subject Matter Bias– If the person involved in a case directly or indirectly involved in the subject matter of that case, it is known as subject matter bias. In Gullampally Nageswara Rao v. A.P.S.R.T.C. ,the government suggested for the nationalization of motor transport. When objections were raised, the matter was referred to the Secretary to the Government, who held the scheme to be valid. The decision was challenged on the fact that the secretary himself initiated the nationalization. The Supreme Court held the actions of the Government Secretary as invalid.

2.) Audi Alteram Partem

The second principle of natural justice is audi alteram partem or the rule of fair hearing. It means no one should be deprived from his right to be heard. According to this rule, reasonable opportunity must be provided to the person before acting against him. The rule insisted that the person must be given enough opportunity to get the evidence in support of his matter. The person should have a chance to rebut the evidence which were presented by the opposite party.

To ensure fair hearing, the following elements should be determined-

1. Notice

2. Hearing

1) Notice- A valid and proper notice must be given to the parties of the case to proceed further with the procedure of fair trial. If the statute doesn’t have a provision of notice issuance, then also it will be given priority before decision making. The notice must have reasonable content and also have the time, place, nature of hearing and other relevant particulars. If the notice is found vague and have defects, the subsequent proceedings must be declared as void. In R. v. University of Cambridge (Dr. Bentley’s Case), the university authorities cancelled the degree of Dr. Bentley without giving any prior notice, on the ground of misconduct. The house of Lords held the University’s action had violated the principle of natural justice.

The reason behind sending a notice is to give an opportunity to the person in order to let him make him take necessary measures to defend himself. The order which is passed without giving any prior notice is against the rule of natural justice and is void ab initio.

2. Hearing- Fair hearing means that a person who’s under trail or against whom an order has been passed should be made aware of the charges against him and an opportunity must be given to let him give explanation in his defence. He has a right to be informed about both the oral and written evidences and to have examination of witnesses conducted in his presence. He can also have cross examination of witnesses through his counsel. In Indian law, the requirement of hearing is a necessity in administrative and quasi-judicial proceedings. If an administrative order is passed without giving any opportunity to be heard then it shall be declared illegal and void. In Radhika Agnihotri v. Gujarat University & Others, the Gujarat High Court held that rejection of candidature of students for election to members of Senate and not giving any opportunity of hearing and also not giving any reason for rejecting candidature of students for Senate elections was not appropriate and hence void.

Exceptions to Natural Justice

There are general exceptions to the rule of natural justice. Such exceptions are discussed below-

1. Statutory Exclusions

2. Emergency

3. Legislative Function

4. Public Interest

5. Impracticability

6. Interim Disciplinary Action

7. Academic Evolution


The Principles of Natural Justice are not well settled rules. The word ‘natural justice’ cannot be used in a precise definition. This principle of natural justice evolved under the common law of England, in order to keep a check on arbitrary actions of the State or its functionaries. Therefore, the principles apply for fair play, in actions of administrative and quasi judicial activities. The rules aim at securing justice or to put it negativity to avoid miscarriage of justice. Hence, these rules can operate in areas which are not covered by any law validly made.

Author: Samiksha Mehta,
Invertis University/ Student ( LL.B 3rd year

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