The Principles of Natural Justice have been present and evolving for thousands of years. However, these principles need not be abided by in all cases and there are some instances where these principles are excluded.
By: Rajrishi Ramaswamy, Second Year, B.B.A LL.B, Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad.
What are Principles of Natural Justice?
The manner in which justice can be imparted is of two kinds, legal and natural justice. When justice is imparted on the basis of prevalent laws, it is known as legal justice. When no such specific laws exist, the judges are expected to interpret the case from the perspective of equality and good conscience and this is the basic meaning of natural justice. The interpretation made by the judges should also not be in contravention to legislative intentions, the main principles recognized by authority and ultimately, the principles of natural justice. Prominent American Jurist John Marshall recognized that laws in the beginning of seventeenth century were being construed across courts in a restricted sense. In this context, Marshall laid down two main elements of natural justice through two Latin phrases which now are prominent legal maxims. These maxims include:
- nemo judex in causa sua (No man shall be a judge of his own cause)
- audi alteram partem (both sides shall be heard)
Many other jurists have defined natural justice and its principles while including a variety of other factors. For instance, in comparison to the definition given by Justice Marshall, a much more comprehensive definition of principles of natural justice has been given by Justice Lucas according to which
principles of natural justice entail a judge to mandatorily perform certain functions and abide by certain processes.
To avoid complications, Justice Marshall’s fundamental definition of the principles of natural justice has been taken in this article.
Exclusion of nemo judex in causa sua
This principle is also known as “rule against bias”.
In the landmark English case of R v. Sussex Justices, the High Court of Justice held that mere presence of bias in a judgement is enough to overturn a judge’s decision. In a precedent-setting decision, the Court quashed the conviction of an accused on the ground that the clerk to the Justices in the case was a member of the firm of lawyers who were acting against the defendants in the immediate case. The Court observed that the involvement of the clerk was “in manifest contradiction” to the principle of nemo judex in causa sua.
The principle however, does not come without any exceptions. nemo judex in causa sua can be excluded in some situations. There is a debate between authors and legal scholars as to exact number of such situations but the generally agreed-upon exceptions are as follows:
- Doctrine of Necessity: This exception operates under the statement given by Hendry de Bracton that “what is not lawful becomes otherwise lawful by necessity”. This statement is the foundation of the Doctrine of Necessity. With respect to the nemo judex principle, this doctrine extends to those cases where there is no other recourse but for a judge who should normally abstain from giving judgement in a case, to deliver the judgement. This scope includes in it acts done by a legislator in cases where there is no other legislator, or a tribunal or committee cannot be constituted.
Contempt of Court: A perfect example to explain this situation is the recent case of Re Prashant Bhushan vs. Unknown where the statements made by Advocate Prashant Bhushan were alleged to constitute contempt of court. The Bench that heard the case consisted of judges of the very Court which Mr. Bhushan had allegedly come in contempt of through his tweets. It is clear that when a person is in contempt of Court, the matter is judicial in nature. Therefore, it becomes imperative for the same Court to hear the case, excluding Contempt of Court cases from the scope of the nemo judex principle.
- Doctrine of Waiver: If parties to a proceeding insists on continuing with the same even after it comes to light that one of the judges has extrajudicial or personal interest in the case, the Doctrine of Waiver becomes applicable. The judge can continue to be a part of the case without recusing himself. In R v. Williams, the Court observed that there may be debates on the extent of applicability of the Doctrine of Waiver to the nemo judex principle, but it is nevertheless applicable.
Exclusion of audi alteram partem
The maxim audi alteram partem is the founding maxim for the right to free and fair trial.
This particular right has been accorded high importance across almost all countries. In India, the right to free and fair trial is considered an integral part of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which deals with “right to life and liberty”. This right however is not absolute, as was pointed out by the Supreme Court of India in Sidhartha Vashisht & Manu Sharma v. State of Delhi (NCT of Delhi), where the Court held that “liberty of an accused cannot be interfered with except under due process of law. The expression ‘due process of law’ shall deem to include fairness in trial”. This restriction in the name of “due process of law” may be present in other forms in some other countries. For instance, in A v. United Kingdom, the House of Lords restricted the right to fair trial to those cases where evidence provided by a person is based on substantial grounds and not on mere assertions.
There are a lot of debates as regards applicability of some of the doctrines in order to exclude a principal of natural justice from being applicable in a case. However, the basic grounds for such exclusion indicate that even the most important and fundamental principles of law can be excluded, if that is the only manner in which a Court can function properly and administer justice.