Natural justice is the common law doctrine that provides important procedural rights in administrative decisions- making. The doctrine now has a wide application and is presumed by the courts to apply the exercise of virtually all statuary powers. But the courts have also accepted that natural justice can be excluded by legislation that is expressed in sufficiently clear terms. The doctrine (natural justice) is now termed as a synonym of fairness in the concept of justice and stands as the most accepted methodology of governmental action.
It is a settled position of law that the rules of natural justice have many facets and cannot be put in a straitjacket formula; in other words, they are flexible. Rules of natural justice are synonymous to fairness in the backdrop of common sense. Natural justice is another name for common-sense justice. The question to be asked in every case to determine whether the rules of natural justice have been violated is: Have the authorities acted fairly? [Dev Dutt v Union of India (2008) 8 SCC 725] The purpose of following principles of natural justice is to prevent the miscarriage of Justice [Bharat Ratna Indira Gandhi College of Engineering v State of Maharashtra AIR 2011 SC1912]. Today, the bulk of decisions relating to personal or property rights of the people come not from the courts, but from administrative agencies exercising judicial power. Sometimes the task of adjudication is merely incidental to administration; sometimes it begins to assume a very close resemblance with the work usually assigned to the judiciary.
‘Administrative decision-making’ or ‘Administrative Adjudication’ is a by-product of an intensive form of government, and consequential socialization of law (thus causes for the evolution of administrative adjudication and delegated legislation are same); the traditional judicial system cannot give to the people that quantity and quality of justice which is required in a welfare state, because it is the highly individualistic and ritualistic approach.
Need for Administrative Adjudication
(i)It provides a system of adjudication which is informal, cheap, and rapid, unlike the traditional courts.
(ii) It explores new public law standards based on moral and social principles away from the highly individualistic norms developed by courts. For example, the Employees’ State Insurance Scheme in India required a new standard of medical service and treatment to which all the insured population and doctors must conform. The setting up of new standards requires expertise, specialization, and experimentation which can be provided by the administration.
(iii) Nowadays, there is a growing emphasis on preventive justice rather than punitive. This can be done only by administrative agencies exercising adjudicatory powers.
However, it is being said that strategy of administrative adjudication was developed not as a result of public necessity but for governmental convenience and expediency. People doubt the independence of administrators as judges and also fear their anti-legal approach.
Problems of Administrative Adjudication
Administrative justice has been a host of controversies in India. A few common problems the adjudicative process occurs are as follows:
(i) Number and complexity- A large number of adjudicative bodies have come up in recent times; every statutory scheme contains its own machinery for decision-making. A large number of parallel bodies adjudicating on the same kind of disputes give diverse decisions and adopt a variety of procedures. Because the principles of natural justice are not rigid and do not apply uniformly in all situations, the consequent results at times in arbitrary actions.
(ii) Unsystematic system of appeal: No uniform system of appeal is there. Sometimes, decisions are made appealable before an independent tribunal as in tax cases, and sometimes before a higher administrative agency. Some acts do not provide for any appeal.
(iii) Invisibility and anonymity of decisions: Not all the administrative agencies exercising judicial power publish their decisions; their decisions thus go beyond the Pale of public criticism. Also, often the decisions are made in a ‘hole and the corner’ fashion. No one knows where the decision comes.
(iv) Unpredictability and anonymity of decisions: Administrative agencies do not follow the doctrine of precedent, hence they are not bound to follow their decisions. This ad hocism not only makes the development of law incoherent but also violates the principles of the rule of law.
(v) Combination of functions: Except in the case of civil servants, in all disciplinary proceedings, the functions of a prosecutor and the judge are either combined in one person or in the same department, in such a situation bias is inevitable.
(vi) No evidence rule: In India, the technical rules of the Evidence Act do not apply to administrative adjudications. The gap is filled, true inadequately, by the judge-made rule of ‘No Evidence’.
(vii) Official perspective and official bias: In administrative justice, an official prospective is inherent. In any disciplinary proceedings of presumption is of guilt rather than innocence. The actions are taken on the basis of expediency and various other extra-legal considerations. Official or departmental bias is very common e.g. Strong and sincere conviction as to public policy or bias results due to pecuniary interest.
(viii) Plea bargaining: It means the bargaining of ‘plea of guilt’ with lesser charges and punishment. A poor employee is bullied by an overbearing superior to accept the charge against him on a promise that a lesser punishment will be awarded.
(ix) Political interference: Instrumentalities of Administrative justice are, by their very nature, subject to some more manner of political interference.
(x) Reasoned decisions: Generally there is no requirement for the administrative authority to give reasons, which undermines the faith in administrative justice.
(xi) Legal representation and cross-examination: There is no general requirement for administrative authority to allow legal representation and cross-examination in every case.
In order to create confidence among the people in administrative justice, a code prescribing a minimum procedure of Administrative agencies must be adopted; till this is done, judicial review must be enlarged by using the test of reasonableness of Administrative findings of the fact and law.
Rules of Natural Justice
The principles of natural justice, in brief, are as follows:
1. That every person whose rights are affected must have reasonable notice of the matter that he has to meet.
2. That he must have a reasonable opportunity of being heard in his’ defense.
That the hearing must be an impartial person i.e. A person who is neither directly or indirectly a party to the case. One who has an interest in the litigation is already biased against the party concerned.
4. That the authority of hearing the case must act in good faith and not arbitrarily but reasonably.
Salient features of natural justice
The salient features of natural justice are summed up as follows:
1. The allegation should be specific and precise and ought to be produced in writing. The charges framed against the workman on the basis of allegations should be such as are qualitative and specific provisions of the service rules or the notified standing orders applicable to the establishment.
2. Reasonable time should be given to the delinquent the employee to reply to the charge-sheet and prepare for his defense, inquiry is to be conducted.
3. Inquiry officer appointed for conducting domestic inquiry should be totally unbiased and not connected with the incident. He should not appear as the prosecution witness himself.
4. All prosecution witnesses should be examined individually in the presence of a delinquent employee and their statements recorded. Pre-recorded should not be on the record of the inquiry proceedings.
5. The delinquent employee or his Defense Representative should be given ample opportunity to cross-examine the witness and the replies of the witness should be recorded by the inquiry officer.
Reasons for the growth of Administrative Adjudication
Administrative Adjudication protect the rights of citizens at the cost of the state authority. Following mentioned are some of the reasons contributing to the growth of Administrative Adjudication:
· Administrative authorities can help in taking various preventive and cautionary measures. As it has been observed that the disputing parties approach the courts of law for redressal, however, the same is not the case with Administrative authorities as herein, the preventive actions are already taken which then prove to be more effective and useful than what happens in regular courts i.e. punishing the perpetrator after he has committed a breach of law.
· Administrative authorities endure effective measures for the enforcement of the aforesaid preventive measures e.g. suspension, revocation and cancellation of license, destruction of contaminated articles etc., which are not generally available through regular courts of law.
· The judicial system of India is considered to be inadequate in deciding and settling all kinds of disputes, for the reasons it being, slow, incompetent, costly, complex and formal. The Indian court are already overloaded with number of cases and it becomes impossible to expect speedy disposal of even very important matters. Thus, the development of administrative authorities such as industrial tribunals and labour courts have led to bring a relief in the number of cases. Lastly, these tribunals had updated techniques and expertise to handle such complex issues.
· The legislative process followed in our country is considered to be quite inappropriate. The lengthy proceedings and obsolete techniques followed in the Indian courts make the process of delivering justice delayed. Even having detailed provisions in some legislations made by the legislature, they are considered to be defective. Therefore, it the need of the hour to delegate some powers to the administrative authorities.
Author Details: Yashika Kapoor
The views of the author are personal only. (if any)