October 22, 2021

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Exceptions to the rule of natural justice

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This article is written by Anshal Dhiman, pursuing BA.LLB (Hons.). The article talks about exceptions to the rule of Natural Justice and how the Indian courts have incorporated them. 

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There are no definite provisions as to ‘Natural Justice’ in the Indian constitution. The concept of Natural Justice roughly relates to the concept of Law of Nature, although there are differences between the definitions of the two concepts. Natural justice is a very vast and wide topic to discuss and implement in itself. As obvious from the term itself, it roughly means justice on the basis of what is naturally right or wrong, or what is fair or unfair.

The concept of Natural Justice has a very impressive history. From the Greeks to the Romans, and then the developments under the common law system which more and less has affected its application in the present times. The notion of Natural Justice roughly revolves around two principles:

  1. Nemo judex in causa sua: This Latin principle means that no person should be a judge in his own case, and no one should be allowed to judge any matter while having personal bias.

In Mineral Development Corporation Ltd. Vs State of Bihar, the petitioner held a mining lease for 99 years which was quashed by the government because of the violations committed by the petitioner under sections 10, 12 and 14 of Mines Act. The petitioner here convinced the court that there was personal bias by the minister who had quashed the license as he was opposed by the petitioner in general elections a few years before. The Supreme Court found the allegation to be true and the order was revoked.

  1. Audi Alterum Partum: This principle means that the other side should be given a fair chance to be heard. It provides the rights to the accused to respond to the allegations made against them and consequently prepare his defense as such. The principle was used in the famous 1978 Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India case.

In the above sections of the article it has been roughly discussed about the meaning of the concept of natural justice and the principles it revolves around. But like many other legal provisions and legal principles, this rule is also not absolute and contains within itself some restrictions which have developed over the time. Applications of natural justice have been excluded during various occasions, which would be discussed further in the article.

Doctrine of necessity and absolute necessity

Doctrine of necessity is an exception to the rule of bias under natural justice. It allows authorities to do certain things which are necessary to be done at the moment, and those acts which would in a normal situation not be allowed by the law. It is invoked in situations where there is no definite authority to decide on a matter. The Supreme Court has although established that the Doctrine of Necessity should not be invoked every now and then for even small matters, which might lead to absence of rule of law. If there is a choice to whether let a biased person act on a matter or whether to stop the matter itself, the preference will be given to the biased person to act on it to get definite decisions, although which may be affected by the bias of that particular person or authority, but nonetheless, the decision of that biased authority is necessary to come to a conclusion under a said matter.

In Ashok Kumar Yadav and others vs. State of Haryana and others, it was decided by the court that a member of Public Service Commission can’t exclude himself from the selection process completely just because they might be related to some of the candidates, and may exclude themselves only during the selection process of those candidates to whom he might be related.

In doctrine of necessity, there are options to decide whether a biased person should be allowed or not. Under the doctrine of absolute necessity, it is absolutely necessary to let the case of a biased person be decided. In the modern times, there is not much difference between the two and are overlapped in many circumstances.

Statutory exceptions to the rule of natural justice

The principle of natural justice can be excused by certain acts of the parliament. Parliament may through its powers get rid of the procedures that are otherwise necessary for any administrative action. It must also be noted here that any action of the parliament which does not permit the individuals certain rights during the time period of the act, such act is bound to come under the scrutiny of the courts and may be challenged under Article 14 of the Constitution. A statute may exclude natural justice either expressly or by necessary implication

In Charan Lal Sahu vs. Union of India, the central government, under the Bhopal Gas Disaster Act (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985, authorized itself to represent all the victims. This was challenged on the fact that the govt. held 22% share in the Union Carbide Company, and the interests of the government and the company overlapped while there was a conflict of interests between the victims and the government. The court said that even though the agreement might be true, no other body can represent the victims. Statutory exception to natural justice might not be expressed but it is implied in the application, along with the doctrine of necessity.

Exception during situations of emergency

India has witnessed its share in situations of emergencies. It is generally observed in India that during a situation of emergency, in those cases where the right to be heard will affect the government process, it will be excluded by the law for the time being. This means that any hearing or any process which may jeopardize the interest of the public at large would not be needed under the principle of natural justice and any such right would be obviated for the time being. It is necessary in those situations where the process of fair hearing may take too much and in consequence put the society in trouble either due to any external force, natural force or any internal troubles.

In Mohinder Singh Gill vs. CEC, there were constituency elections going on in Ferozpur, which were interrupted by mob violence, which caused some ballot papers and boxes to be destroyed, while the elections were still underway in some places. The ECI ignored the right to be heard and without any notice ordered re-elections. The court did not interrupt the work of the ECI and dismissed the claims for notice by saying that the said act was necessary in an emergency situation and Audi alteram partem can be ignored can be excluded in this situation.

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Exception where no right of an individual has been infringed

Where a person does not have any right, and neither can he derive any right from any statute or any common law provision, he cannot ask for a remedy in that case under the principles of natural justice, and he may in such case forfeit procedural fairness. The Latin principle Ebi Jus ebiremedium stands for where there is a right, there is a remedy. So naturally, in cases where there arises no right, no remedy can be granted.

In J.R Vohra vs. Indian Export House (P) Ltd. Provisions for termination and creation for limited tenancies were made under the Delhi Rent Control Act. The result of these provisions was that after the end of the term of the limited tenancy, it can be terminated by the authorized office and can serve warrant of possession to the landlord without notifying the tenant. The Supreme Court of India, upholding the validity of these warrants, said that once the term of tenancy is over, the said person has no right to possession over that particular place and that such a warrant will not affect any of the rights conferred on him. Hence, in this case the exception is explained very well by the court, that no right can be infringed if it was not available to a particular individual or an office in the first place.

Exception in cases where public interest is of importance

In those situations, considering the welfare of the public at large, it is important to not dispense any such information which may put the safety of the public at threat. State must make sure that it should not compromise the security of its territory, and that it should protect all the information that it has which is of public importance. In Balco Employees Union vs. UOI, the Supreme Court established that the principles of natural justice had no role to play in those situations where policies considering the public at large were to be undertaken.

It was held by the court in this case that unless any action of the government is arbitrary, illegal or unenforceable due to any valid reason, the decision of the government cannot be challenged as a violation of the principles of natural justice. In this particular case, the employees had challenged the decision of the government regarding disinvestment in PSUs. The petition was dismissed on the basis of the reasoning given above.

Exception in cases of impracticality

This is one of the simplest exceptions to the rule of natural justice. Natural justice can be applied only when it is practical in nature to apply it. But natural justice can be excluded when there is no practicality to the situation in it. In Bihar School Examination Board vs. Subhash Chandra, the examination board conducted class X board exams. But it was alleged that there was mass copying in the exams, and during the checking it was on first view found that there has been mass copying.

Following this, the board issued a fresh notice which directed the students to appear for fresh exams again, without giving any chance to the students to have themselves heard. This was challenged in the High Court by students, and the High Court quashed the boards’ notice saying that the principle of Audi Alteram Partem has been violated and the students have not been heard. In response to this decree, the board approached the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court struck down the order of the High Court, saying that it is impractical to hear issues of all students in such a small time and it was held that on the grounds of impracticality, the principle can be excluded in this particular case.

This case may also be read in the context of another exception, i.e. exception in case of academic evaluation.

                    

Exception in cases of academic evaluation

In cases where the authority involved is academic in nature, or if the authority is of complete administrative nature, in such cases, their evaluations may be excluded from the ambit of the rule of natural justice. In JNU vs. B.S. Narwal, the respondent was a student of Jawaharlal Nehru University. The student was removed from the university on the basis of his academic performances, without being given any hearing prior to the notice. The case reached the Supreme Court where the court observed that the nature of the decision is academic authority in nature and that decisions from such an authority automatically declines any right to be heard, and it was held that if the assessment of the authority is competent and it decides that the work of the particular student is unsatisfactory, then the rule of natural justice may not be applied.

There are various exceptions to the rule of Natural Justice, courts in India have applied the exceptions in various situations where the principles of Natural Justice can be put aside. However, these exceptions are completely circumstantial and not definite in nature. There are no documents or legislatures that regulate natural justice or its exceptions. The list itself is not exhaustive in nature. Exceptions to the rule of natural justice can be studied from other dimensions which may give us even more situations where other exceptions may arise.

In cases where natural justice principles are excluded by the judiciary, it implies that the courts have adopted that particular notion regarding the dimension of the exception of natural justice even if the law-making bodies have not adopted it. It is also an important point to be noted that the principles of natural justice should not be overruled unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. It is necessary to make sure that these exceptions don’t take over the actual law of the land.


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