The principles of natural justice were read into the law and conduct of judicial and administrative proceedings with an aim of securing fairness. These principles seek to realise the following four momentous purposes:

Fair Outcome

Procedural rules are established to prevent the seepage of bias and unfairness in the process of decision making. A decision that is reached after following the procedural rules is expected to be fair. An outcome that is reached through a fair process is reliable and accurate. In the context of criminal proceedings, procedural rules are prescribed in the Indian Evidence Act 1872 and the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 to secure the ‘correct’ outcome and to identify the ‘truth’.

In Chief Constable of North Wales Police v. Evans[1], the appellant was a probationary member of the North Wales Police Force. He was removed from the force without putting forth the allegations against him. The House of Lords set aside the decision on the ground that the non-disclosure of allegations was violative of the principles of natural justice.

The Court cautioned that there was an extreme danger in proceeding without putting forth the allegations against him because the veracity of the allegations could never be tested:

“As an example of the extreme danger of proceeding in this way, it must be observed that, as one of the two clinching matters which seem to have influenced him, the appellant says in his affidavit:

“Further, it became known” (sic) “to senior officers that the applicant and his wife had lived a ‘hippy’ type life-style at Tyddyn Mynyddig Farm, Bangor.”

This had never been put to the respondent at all, and had the appellant or his deputy to whom he delegated the inquiry taken the trouble to ask the respondent about it, he would have discovered at once that this allegedly clinching allegation was palpably untrue, and simply the result of a mistaken address. It was, in short, an utterly incorrect statement relied upon precisely owing to the failure of natural justice of which complaint is made.”

Inherent value in fair procedure

Fair procedure is not only a means to the end of achieving a fair outcome but is an end in itself. Fair procedure induces equality in the proceedings. The proceedings ‘seem’ to be and are seen to be fair.

In Kanda v. Government of Malaya[2], an Inspector of Police challenged his dismissal on the ground that the disciplinary proceedings were not conducted in accordance with the principles of natural justice. It was contended that he did not have knowledge of the contents of the enquiry report that was before the adjudicating officer. The crux of the case was whether his lack of knowledge of the contents of the report led to a likelihood of bias – both conscious and unconscious.

The Court held that the likelihood of bias test cannot be solely used to determine the violation of natural justice. The Court held that it is not necessary that the accused must prove bias or prejudice. Rather, it is sufficient if the non-disclosure would lead to a possibility of bias and prejudice since “no one who has lost a case will believe he has been fairly treated if the other side has had access to the judge without his knowing.” The House of Lords held that non-disclosure of information is per se violative of the principles of fair trial.

Legitimacy of the decision and decision making authority

When a decision is formed following the principles of natural justice, there is a perception that the decision is accurate and just. It preserves the integrity of the system as the decisions, in addition to being fair, also ‘appear’ to be fair. The perception of the general public that the decisions appear to be fair is important in building public confidence in institutions, which aid in securing the legitimacy of the courts and other decision making bodies.

Dignity of individuals

Non-outcome values, that is, values that are independent of the accuracy and soundness of the verdict, are intrinsically important. The principles of fairness ‘express the elementary idea that to be a person, rather than a thing, is at least to be consulted about what is done with one’.

D.J Galligan in his book “Due Process and Fair Procedures: A Study of Administrative Procedures[3] explains that to insist on fair treatment is implicit on a renewed understanding of the relationship between citizens and the State:

“It builds on the idea of decision-making as a social process rather than a purely logical activity, on the inherent indeterminacy and contingency of standards… to insist on fair treatment of persons by administrative bodies is to draw on those implicit commitments and understandings at the very base of the relationship between the citizen and the State.”

TRS Allan argues that more often than not, the right outcome is itself a matter of controversy. It is possible to arrive at divergent views, both of which are reasonable. He argues that when procedures allow the genuine participation and contestation of ideas, a citizen is treated with respect and dignity that they deserve in a society that is governed by the rule of law.[4]

Indian Courts

Indian Courts have been significantly influenced by the courts in England on the interpretation, application, and content of natural justice, primarily because the principles are derived from common law and are grounded in the rule of law. The jurisprudential developments across other common law jurisdictions relating to the principles of natural justice usually, if not always, spill over to Indian jurisdiction.

Our Courts were soon to follow suit when the courts in England made a functional distinction between executive and non-judicial[5] actions and between an action that deprives rights and an action that deprives privilege[6] for deciding the applicability of the principles of natural justice.

In Ridge v. Baldwin[7], the House of Lords repudiated the functional distinction based on the nature of the adjudicating body and held that the duty to act judicially in compliance with the principles of natural justice can be inferred from the nature of the decision and not the nature of the decision-making body.

The doctrine of fairness

Courts have with time substituted the usage of the terminology of the principles of natural justice with the doctrine of ‘fairness’ because natural justice is encapsulated in the doctrine of fariness; as Justice Bhagwati termed it, “fair-action in play”.[8]

The duty to act fairly that is derived from common law is not exhaustively defined in a set of concrete principles. Courts, both in India and abroad, have demonstrated considerable flexibility in the application of the principles of natural justice by fine-tuning them to situational variations.

Test to assess violation of Natural Justice

Supreme court of India has observed earlier that the concept of natural justice cannot be put into a ‘straitjacket formula’[9] and that it is incapable of a ‘precise definition’[10]. Courts have undertaken an ends-based reasoning to test if the action violates the common law principle of natural justice. The party alleging a violation of a principle of natural justice has to prove that the administrative action violated the principles of natural justice and that non-compliance with natural justice prejudiced the party.

The courts, while assessing prejudice, determine if compliance of the principles of natural justice could have benefitted the party in securing a just outcome. It needs to be seen if this content of natural justice and the standard for judicial review of non-compliance has undergone a change after principles of natural justice were constitutionalized in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India[11]


Madhyamam Broadcasting Ltd. V. Union of India, (2023)

[1] 7 (1982) 1 WLR 1155

[2] (1962) 28 MLJ 169

[3] DJ Galligan, Due Process and Fair Procedures: A Study of Administrative Procedures (Clarendon Press 1996)

[4] TRS Allan, Procedural Fairness and the Duty of Respect (Oxford Journal of Legal Studies) p. 510

[5] The King v. Inspector of Leman Street Police Station, Ex Parte Venicoff, (1920) 3 K.B. 72

[6] Nakkuda Ali v. MF De S Jayaratne, [1951] AC 66

[7] [1964] A.C 40

[8] Justice Bhagwati in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, (1978) 1 SCC 248 (paragraph 9)

[9] NK Prasada v. Government of India, (2004) 6 SCC 299

[10] Automotive Tyre Manufacturers Association v. Designated Authority, (2011) 2 SCC 258

[11] Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, (1978) 1 SCC 248