Authored By- Adithya Narayanan
Sri Dharmasthala Manjunatheshwara Law College,
Mangalore, Karnataka,
Affiliated To Kslu, Hubballi
The notion of Natural Justice has developed through the Latin maxim, “Audi Alteram Partem”. Natural Justice is a conception of civil law, where decree, which is inclined should be just and logical. Justice and equality must be there.
Principle of Natural Justice in country India, can be documented from Article 14 and Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Where Article 14, deals about the equality before the law and Article 21 speaks about the protection of life and personal liberty.
Maneka Gandhi Vs. The Union of India, interpreted the Article 21 of Indian Constitution. It was held by the Court that law and procedure which is followed must be unbiased, equitable and fair kind.
The order of Natural justice comes into force where no favour is done with anyone at the time of any Governmental activity. The Rule of Audi Alteram Partem is the main idea of the concept of Natural Justice. The concept also pronounces that no one can be sentenced unheard. Both the parties is given a chance of fair hearing and justice will be concluded with regard to both the parties, where both the parties have right to speak. No conclusion will be taken by the Court without hearing both the parties. Both the parties have a chance to safeguard each other.
This Article thus discusses about, the maxim “Audi Alteram Partem”, describes its ingredients and its exceptions in detail along with case laws, finally ending with a conclusion.


‘Audi Alteram Partem’ is one of the fundamental principles of natural justice, which means ‘No man should be punished or condemned unheard’, “hear both the sides before passing any judgement”, ‘No person should suffer in person withoutan opportunity of being heard’. ‘No person can be made to suffer without fair hearing’.
Natural justice (Audi Alteram Partem) requires that both the sides should be heard before passing an order. The affected person must be given an opportunity to produce evidence in support of his case. He should be disclosed the evidence to be used against him and he should be given an opportunity to rebut the evidence produced by the other party.It is a divine law having been followed ever since ancient days.
Ingredients Of The Maxim ‘Audi Alteram Partem’:
The maxim includes two broad ingredients namely:
1)      Notice
2)      Fair hearing
Notice is the beginning step of a hearing. Before any action is taken, the aggrieved party must be given a notice in writing against the proposed action and seek his explanation.
Such notice is otherwise known as “show cause notice”. An order passed without giving a notice is invalid and vitiative of the principles of Naturaljustice.
The notice must be reasonable and adequate in its contents. The notice must contain sufficient information about the nature of charge, penalty proposed and other materials required for the affected person to properly defend himself. The notice must be specific, precise, clear and certain in its wordings and content.[1]
The notice must give reasonable time to the affected person to study and send his reply. If a notice is given for one particular charge, then the person cannot be punished for a different charge for which he was not given an opportunity to defend.
The following are the leading case laws on this point:
a)      Urban Housing Co. Vs. Oxford Sitting Council:
The court held that every person whose civil rights are affected must have reasonable notice of the cause affecting such rights.[2]
b)     Punjab National Bank Vs. All India Employees Federation:
The supreme Court held that in all disciplinary proceedings, the person accused must be conducted only on such specific charges.
c)      S.R. Sharma Vs. State of U.P:
The court held that if the charge sheet contains vague allegations and are not specific and clear in nature, then it amounts to defective notice and hence invalid.
d)     Grosons Pharmaceutical (P) Ltd Vs. State of Uttar Pradesh:
A drug manufacturer was having contractual relationship with the government. There was no rule providing for issuance of Notice before blacklisting. As blacklisting would result in civil consequences, the Supreme Court held that the principles of ‘Audi alteram partem’ should be observed. The Court further observed that it is sufficient if ‘notice to show cause’ is given to satisfy the principle of ‘Audi alteram partem’.
e)      V. Joseph Vs. Executive Engineer, Cochin:
The petitioner, a contractor was blacklisted by the order of the Executive Engineer and before cancelling all contracts with him, a show cause notice did not mean adequate opportunity to representation. Therefore, the court held the order invalid. It further observed that in addition to notice, further opportunities to be heard must also be given to the affected party.
f)       Charan Lal Sahu Vs. Union of India:
Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (processing of claims) Act, 1985, contained a provision permitting the Central Government to represent the claims of victims in the suit against the multinational company responsible for disaster. This was questioned, alleging that the Central Government being a joint tort feaser and hence incompetent to represent the victims as no man should be judge of his own case.
The Supreme Court held that, if there is no other person who is competent to adjudicate or if no other competent Tribunal can be constituted, then the Government was competent to represent the victims.
Further, though ‘pre-decisional notice’ was not given, in the review petition pending before Supreme Court, it afforded opportunity of hearing of the victims. The Supreme Court, therefore, observed that in certain circumstances to do justice to a great right, it is permissible to do a little wrong.[3]
Fair Hearing (Audi Alteram Partem)
The second ingredient of the maxim ‘Audi Alteram Partem’ is fair opportunity of being heard to a person before any punitive action is taken against him.
A hearing is a fair hearing, if the following conditions are fulfilled:
1.      The deciding authority should have received all the relevant evidence (in the form of statements, documents, etc.,) furnished by both the complainant/petitioner and the affect party/respondent.
2.      The deciding authority must disclose to the affected party all the relevant evidence which he wants to use against him.
3.      The deciding authority must give the affected party an opportunity to rebut the evidence which are used against him.[4]
Fair hearing includes the following:
1.      Right of presentation of the case.
2.      Right to know the other side’s evidence and right of cross examination.
3.      Right of oral hearing.
4.      Right of representation through Counsel.
5.      Speaking order.
1.      Right of presentation of the case:
A fair hearing involves adequate and reasonable opportunity to both the parties to effectively present their cases and adduce relevant evidence to prove their cases.
a.      Cooper Vs. Words Worth Board of Works, (1863):
The Wordsworth Board had a statutory provision of demolishing buildings without any opportunity of being heard, if constructed without prior permission. The Court held that such statutory provision is void, as it is violative of natural justice.
The Metropolic Management (amended) Act empowered the local authorities to demolish all sanitary dwellings and buildings. The Act did not provide any procedural preliminaries like issuing a Notice to the landlord, calling for explanation and providing opportunity to represent, etc. The Court held that the Act was void as demolishing dwellings without notice to landlord amounts to illegal act and violation of Natural Justice.[5]
b.      Yasho Rajya Lakshmi Vs. State of Jammu and Kashmir, 2001:
A Tahsildar passed an order in a hurry without giving a fair opportunity of being heard to the petitioner. The order was set aside by the Supreme Court and the Tahsildar was directed to enquire into the matter afresh.
c.       Pepsu Road Transport Corporation Vs. Lachman Dass Gupta, 2002:
In disciplinary proceedings, non-furnishing of documents relied upon by Department in establishing the charge to the delinquent employee amounts to denial of reasonable opportunity to delinquent to defend himself. The Court held that the order of termination is liable to be set aside.
d.      Board of Highschool Vs. Ghan Sheyam, 1962:
When the respondent’s result was cancelled and he was debarred from appearing in the next year’s examination even without giving him an opportunity of being heard, the Supreme Court has held that the examinee should have been heard by the committee since the function of the committee is quasi- judicial. The Supreme Court held no personal knowledge of the matter and had to depend upon the material evidence placed before it.
2.      Right to know the other side’s evidence (Right of cross examination):
The affected party has the right to know the evidence based on which action is proposed to be taken against him by the enquiring authority. He must be given an opportunity to peruse such records of evidence. Similarly, no evidence can be recorded in any enquiry proceedings in the absence of the affected party.[6]
a.      Kumari Chitra Vs. Board of High school:
Due to shortage of school attendance, the examination written by petitioner was cancelled without giving her any previous notice. The Court set aside the order of cancellation of examination on the ground that no show cause notice was issued to her before such cancellation.[7]
b.      Ridge Vs Baldwin, 1964:
This is a leading case on the principle of “Audi Alteram Partem” (No man can be punished unheard).
A Chief Constable was dismissed by the Watch Committee Members under the Municipal Corporation Act 1882. The Constable was dismissed when he was absent from duty. He was not given a Charge sheet or Notice. He challenged the order of the Watch Committee on the ground that he was not given an opportunity to be heard.
The Court of Appeal, relying on Makkawda Ali Vs. Jayarathna case, dismissed the petition by the Constable and held that the Watch Committee was not bound to observe the principles of Natural Justice.
In the Second Appeal to the House of Lords, the decision was reversed and it was held that the order of dismissal of the Watch Committee was null and void, as it violated Natural Justice. The following principles of Natural Justice were laid down in the case:
i.        The right to be heard by an unbiased Tribunal.
ii.      The right to have notice of change of misconduct.
iii.    The right to be heard in answer to the charges.
c.       Hiranath Misra Vs. Rajendra Medical College, Ranchi, (1973):
The petitioners namely some boy students were dismissed from college for their misbehaviour with some girl inmates of the hostel. The contention of the petitioners was that the statements of girl students were recorded in their absence and no opportunity to cross examine the witnesses or peruse the Committee’s report, was given to them.
The Supreme Court rejected their contention and held the principle the principle of Natural Justice, though inflexible, may differ in different circumstances. To make molested girl students face a strict enquiry, put them to cross examination, etc., may not be correct at all especially in such sensitive circumstances. The fact that the female students’ clear identity of the petitioners, the oral hearing of each male student by the enquiry authority etc., are sufficient steps to satisfy the principles of Natural Justice.[8]
d.      Radha Krishnan Vs. Osmania University:
The entrance test for M.B.A., course was cancelled due to the discovery of mass copying in the test. The petitioners’ contention that “cancellation without giving an opportunity to show cause why the test should not be cancelled amounts to violation of Natural Justice” was rejected by the Court. The Court held that cancellation of the whole examination due to mass copying is not violation of natural justice and it is not practicable to issue notice or give opportunity to each and every student who appeared for the test.[9]
3.      Right of oral hearing:
In India, in U.S.A and U.K., the Courts do not recognize the right of oral hearing to the affected party as part of the principles of Natural Justice.
However, certain statutory Acts recognize the right of oral hearing as part of Natural Justice (Audi Alteram Partem rule). It is enough if reasonable opportunity of being heard is given to the affected party to comply with principles of Natural Justice.
In other words, opportunity of being heard need not necessarily be by the personal hearing. It can be by written representation, etc.
a.      Sri Krishnadas Vs. State of M.P:
The Court held that the test for observance of Natural Justice is that the deciding authority must be impartial and must give hearing to the affected party and should not hit him below the belt.
b.      Karnataka Public Service Commission and Others Vs. B.M. Vijayashankar and Others (1992):
On appeal, the Supreme Court held that the natural justice is a concept which has succeeded in keeping the arbitrary action within limits and preserving the rule of law.
Even though the procedure of affording hearing is as important as decision on merits, yet urgency of the matter or public interest at times require flexibility in application of the rule.
The circumstances of the case and the nature of the matter required to be dealt may do justice better by denying opportunity of hearing and permitting the person concerned to challenge the order itself on merits.[10]
4.   Right Of Representation Through Counsel
The right of representation through an Advocate or Counsel is not considered as part of Natural Justice and therefore cannot be claimed as a matter or right. To grant permission to appear through a Counsel is a discretionary power of deciding authority.
Generally, only when the case involves question of law or when the affected party is totally illiterate., an opportunity to represent the case through Counsel is permitted.
Similarly, when the other side is allowed legal representation, then the affected party gets such right and denial of the same amounts to violation of Natural Justice. Many statutes do not permit appearance through legal counsel. For e.g., Factories Act.
a.      Dilip Kumar Vs. Port of Bombay:
The charged officer was denied representation through lawyer while the prosecuting officers for the management were legally trained persons. The Supreme Court held that it amounts to differential and discriminatory treatment of the charged officer and amounts to violation of natural justice.[11]
b.      A.K. Roy Vs. Union of India, 1982:
A detenue asked for the assistance of a lawyer to represent his case. It was turned down by the tribunal as the statute expressly excluded representation through lawyer. The detenue asked for the assistance of a friend in representing the case which was also turned down by the Tribunal. The Supreme Court held that the detenue could not be represented by a lawyer, but he could very well take the aid of a friend to represent his case.[12]
5.      Speaking orders or Reasoned decisions:
‘Speaking order’ means an order which contains reasons for the decision in it. In other words, the order speaks for itself.
According to Lord Denning, giving reasons is necessary for good administration. The reasons provided in any order prevents arbitrary decisions. The General rule in England and Indian law is, however, that reasons need not be given for administrative or judicial decisions. Courts, many a time, summarily dismiss petitions, appeals, etc., without giving reasons.
However, if a statute requires recording reasons in support of any order, then the authority should comply with it. If any order, then reasons must be recorded by the Court so that the appellate authority may be able to decide whether the facts were correctly ascertained by the Courts.
The reasons recorded by any authority are subjected to Judicial scrutiny. Undisclosed reasons just to avoid judicial scrutiny is not valid. Unreasoned decisions may also be just but may not appear to be so outwardly to the affected party.
If the reasons recorded are totally not relevant, then the order shall be set aside. If the lower authority fails to record reasons for an order and the appellate authority affirms it without recording reasons, the order is bad in law.[13]
Similarly, if he reverses the order of the lower authority, then also reasons must be recorded by him for doing so.
a.      Hochticf Gammon Vs. State of Orissa, 1975:
The Supreme Court has a duty to see that the executives act lawfully and if they fail to give reasons, then judicial scrutiny is permitted.[14]
b.      Shyam Sunder Vs. M/S Harinagar Sugar Mills Limited:
The Directors of a company passed a resolution by which the transfer of certain shares was refused to be registered. The Central Government by an ‘Unspeaking order’ set aside such resolution under the Companies Act. The Supreme Court held that even if the proceedings are of confidential nature, the Central Government is bound to give reasons in its order.[15]
c.       M.L. Kapoor Vs. Union of India:
The petitioner was selected for promotion in the I.P.S. list. His name was in the list in the year 1967 but dropped in 1968. The only reason given for dropping was that the record of the officer did not justify his appointment to I.P.S. The Supreme Court held that the reason given was common to all dropped officers, and hence it was not proper reasoning. The Committee should have stated reasons specifically for each officer concerned.
Exceptions To Fair Hearing (Audi Alteram Partem):
In the following cases ‘Notice’ as well as ‘fair hearing’ need not necessarily be given:
a.       Sometimes for implementation of ‘statutory provisions’, natural justice may be violated. The statute may impliedly or expressly exclude application of principles of natural justice. Under such circumstances, natural justice cannot prevail over the statute.
b.      On grounds of ‘Public Policy’, principles of Natural Justice may be excluded. For e.g., in policy decision of imposing prohibition in a state, no previous notice, etc., need be given.
c.       If discharge of functions involves administrative discretion, then principles of Natural Justice may be violated.
d.       Article 311(2) of Indian Constitution specifically exclude ‘opportunity of being heard’ in disciplinary matters of the following nature:
i.                    When a person is dismissed or reduced in rank on conviction in a criminal charge.
ii.                  For reasons recorded, if the authority is satisfied that it is not practicable to hold an enquiry.
iii.                In the interest of Security of State.
e.       If ‘Notice and Fair Hearing would obstruct taking prompt action (either preventive or remedial) e.g., removal of nuisance, preventive detention, etc.
f.       If the action is legislative, plenary or subordinate, notice and fair hearing may be excluded.
g.      If there is nothing unfair by non-observance of Natural justice, then natural justice is excluded.
h.      Under cases of necessity, natural justice may be excluded.
Exclusion of natural justice should not be made unless it is irresistible.[16]
       Rule of Natural Justice has been promoted throughout human development. It has developed through the mankind itself rather than the Indian Constitution. Every citizen has the right to speak and be overheard when charges are being levied towards the person in question.
      “Audi Alteram Partem”, is a Latin maxim, which is the quality of typical justice, where each person is given the chance of being heard. The importance of the maxim itself says no person will be condemned unheard. Therefore, in a judgement of a case will not be disposed in the absence of another party.
      There are several circumstances where this rule of Natural Justice is excluded, and no opportunity is provided to the party of being heard. Natural justice suggests that justice must be given to both parties in an easy, reasonable and fair way. Under the vigilant eye of the Court, both the parties are equal and have an equal chance to talk and to prove themselves.
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