An Insight Into Audi Alteram Partem

INTRODUCTION

The concept of Natural Justice envisages the magnificent thoroughbred on which the country gallops onward toward its professed and its destined objective of social, political, and economic justice. These principles have been centered around reason and on an effective public policy and can be classified as a branch of public law that acts as an efficacious weapon to ensure that the citizens are being treated fairly.[1] The two limbs of  principles of natural justice can be classified as follows:

  • Nemo iudex in causa sua.
  • Audi alteram partem.

Audi Alteram Partem

Audi Alteram Partem, one of the cardinal principles of natural justice envisaging the criterion of characteristic equity in which every person gets an opportunity of being heard. This principle has been implemented in the sphere of administrative action to provide fairness and justice for those individuals who have been wronged. Its application has been contingent on the factual matrix to promote administrative efficiency, justice, and expediency.

The procedure adopted under this rule must be fair and reasonable as under the court’s watchful eyes, both the parties are equal and should be given an equitable opportunity of being heard. Audi Alteram Partem is the sine qua non of a civilized society. The rule of Audi alteram partem is a code of procedure and is therefore applicable to every stage of an administrative proceeding starting from the right to notice to post-decisional hearing.

 

  1. RIGHT TO NOTICE-:

Natural justice implies that the person who will be directly impacted by an administrative action should be given adequate notice of the proposed action so that they can make a representation on their behalf. The adjudicatory process commences with a notice to the party in question outlining the case against him and notifying him of the proposed action which has been taken against him.

For a notice to be legitimate and effective, it must be properly issued on the concerned person, and also a prescribed procedure must be followed when the relevant statute has specified a specific mode of serving the notice. A proper notice should specify the date, time, and location of the hearing as well as the particular case or charges against which the concerned person must defend himself. A notice issued in the statute’s bare-bones language, i.e., one that just repeats the statute’s language without providing any facts or details is inadequate and insufficient.[2]

  1. RIGHT TO PRESENT CASE AND EVIDENCE-:

The right to present the case and evidence also known as the right to hearing provides an opportunity for the person being prosecuted to counter the charges which are being leveled against them by either verbally presenting their arguments, presenting witnesses on their behalf, and by pointing out the inaccuracy in the documents produced by the opposition.

Hearing can be done either orally or through a written presentation. Though oral hearing is the most effective form of hearing, the administration can’t conduct such hearing in every case as they are time-consuming and costly. The Hon’ble court in the case of Travancore Rayons v. India[3], held that was complicated and complex questions arise that necessitate technical knowledge, and oral/personal hearing is necessary.

Audi Alteram Partem

  1. RIGHT TO REBUT ADVERSE EVIDENCE-:

The right to rebut adverse evidence implies that the person has been apprised of the evidence against him. The possibility of rebutting the evidence is based upon two factors-:

  • Cross-Examination: Cross-examination is without a doubt one of the most effective means of proving the truth and exposing falsehoods. However, the courts have asserted that the right to cross-examine the witnesses is not an essential or an integral aspect of the principles of natural justice, but because of the dynamic nature of natural justice, denial of this right may in some cases represent the denial of natural justice. The court in Punjab v. Dewan Chuni Lal[4] held that the denial of the right to cross-examine the 21 witnesses summoned by the police offer during his inquiry violated the principles of natural justice. The Hon’ble Court in L. Tripathi v. State Batik of India[5], laid down that if the veracity of a person who has been testified or has given any information is in doubt, or if the version or the claim of a person who has testified is in dispute, the right of cross-examination must necessarily be a part of fair play.

Also Read: Administrative Discretion- Failure to exercise discretionary power

  • Legal Representation: The right to legal representation can be classified as an essential prerequisite of legal proceedings. In situations of complicated legal matters and complex evidence, a legal counsel can assist in articulating the important issues, effectively present the factual contentions and protect the interests of the concerned party. In trivial matters where the issues are not very complicated and no professional skills are required for defense, the denial of the right of legal representation does not result in a violation of the principles of natural justice.[6]In K Aggarwal v. Haryana Seeds Development Corporation[7], the discretion which had been given by the inquiry officer violated the principles of natural justice as the corporation had been given the right to legal representation, but the appellant employee had been denied this right.
  1. DISCLOSURE OF EVIDENCE TO THE PARTY-:

The conventional principle is that an adjudicatory body cannot render a decision based on any material unless the person against whom it is being utilized has been notified of it and has been allowed to dispute, discuss or critique it. The right to know what evidence is being utilized against the party is a fundamental principle of natural justice since no materials should be utilized against a party without being allowed to refute them.[8]

The court in the case of Kashinath Dikshita v. U.O.I[9] had quashed the order of the dismissal of a government servant because the disciplinary authority had failed to furnish the copies of the several documents and the witness testimonies that had been recorded ex-parte during the pre-inquiry stage. In Chandrama Tewari v. U.O.I [10], the Supreme Court laid down that only the relevant materials and documents which are necessary for cross-examination of the witnesses are required to be disclosed to the party.

  1. FURNISHING OF ENQUIRY REPORT-:

The right to receive the inquiry report is considered to be a vital component of the reasonable opportunity to defend in the administrative proceedings, as the person will be unable to effectively defend himself against an inquiry officer’s report unless he has been given access to that report. The Hon’ble Court in the case of Managing Director, ECIL v. B Karunakar[11] held that an inquiry report has to be furnished whether the employee asks it or not as it would help the individual to determine whether the report is in their favor or against her. In-State Bank of India v. DC Aggarwal[12], the disciplinary authority’s action was deemed void due to the failure to provide an inquiry officer’s report.

 

  1. REASONED DECISION-:

Administrative decisions should be reasoned so that the authorities assessing the decisions can determine whether they have been based on relevant factors, erroneous factual findings, or an inaccurate interpretation of the law. Reasoned decisions also known as speaking orders are essential because they prohibit the abuse of administrative discretion and ensure that the decisions are impartial and have been implemented in the public interest.

The Hon’ble Court in S.N Mukherjee v. India[13], held that the requirement of reasoned decisions is considered to be one of the cardinal principles of natural justice which govern the exercise of power by the administrative authorities since such reasons would assist the Supreme Court and the High Court to effectively execute their supervisory powers. The reasoned decisions act as living ties between the decision maker’s thoughts and how the decision had arrived.

  1. POST-DECISIONAL HEARING-:

A post-decisional hearing transpires after a preliminary decision has been taken and in situations where the pre-decisional hearing is not possible. The notion of post-decisional hearing had been established to strike a balance between the individuals and the administrative efficiency. This harmonizing mechanism had been introduced in the Indian Legal system through the landmark judgment of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India.[14] The Hon’ble Court laid down that the action of seizing the passport of Maneka Gandhi was in violation of the principles of natural justice and an opportunity to be heard through the tool of Post-Decisional Hearing should have been granted to her.

 

 

EXECPTIONS TO AUDI ALTERAM PARTEM-:

  1. In cases of confidentiality-: Another notable area where a plausible escape route from the principles of natural justice can be established is in cases of confidentiality. In the words of J Simon Brown, “ what is truly required is a balance to be found between the need for confidentiality and transparency.” The Hon’ble Court in the case of Malak Singh v. State of Punjab and Haryana[15] held that the police’s surveillance register is a confidential record, and no member of the public can have access to it. It further stated that the principles of natural justice in such situations may negate the whole purpose of surveillance, and therefore, the ends of justice may be destroyed rather than attained.
  2. In cases of interim preventive action-: The application of the Principles of Natural justice may be precluded in situations involving the conduct of an administrative authority passing suspension orders like preventive action rather than the final order. The order of an institution prohibiting a student from entering the premises during the criminal prosecution against him had been challenged on the grounds of denial of natural justice in Abhay Kumar v. K. Srinivasan[16]. The court held that such an order is preventive and is necessary for maintaining campus peace, and therefore the principles of natural justice may be excluded from its effect as to impede the action sought or to undermine and obstruct the administration of justice.
  3. In cases of impracticality-: A nascent and innovative concept that has been used to evade compliance with the principles of natural justice is impracticality. De Smith has argued persuasively that there must be compelling reasons why a duty to act honestly should not apply when a decision is involving policy or rulemaking. The only justifiable reason is that the number of people who have been impacted by a particular Order, Act, or decision is so large that it would be practically impossible to give them all a chance to be heard by an appropriate authority beforehand. Therefore, the exclusion of the principles of natural justice can be sanctioned on the grounds of impracticality.[17]

CONCLUSION

The primary objective of balancing the inclusion and the exclusion of the protection of the principles of natural justice is to harmoniously comprehend the rights of the individual of fair procedure and being heard, as well as in the public interest. Audi Alteram Partem, which is one of the cardinal principles of natural justice has been implemented in the sphere of administrative action to provide fairness and justice for those individuals who have been wronged. The exceptions to Audi alteram partem are all speculative and not conclusive and each exception will be proclaimed as admissible depending upon the facts and circumstances of each case.

 

This article is written by Miss Sanya Kapoor, 4th Year, BBA LLB (Hons.) student from Bennett University, Greater Noida.

 

References:

[1] Swadeshi Cotton Mills v. Union of India, AIR 1981 SC 818.

[2] Kumar Keshridas v. Divisional Engineer, Telephones, AIR 1984 MP 158.

[3] Travancore Rayons v. India, AIR 1971 SC 862.

[4] Punjab v. Dewan Chuni Lal, AIR 1970 SC 2086.

[5] K.L. Tripathi v. State Batik of India, AIR 1984 SC 273.

[6] HC Sarin v. India, AIR 1976 SC 1686.

[7] J.K Aggarwal v. Haryana Seeds Development Corporation, (1991) 2 SCC 283.

[8] U.O.I. v. Varma, AIR 1957 SC 882.

[9] Kashinath Dikshita v. U.O.I, (1986) 3 SCC 229.

[10] Chandrama Tewari v. U.O.I, 1988 AIR 117.

[11] Managing Director, ECIL v. B Karunakar, (1994) 2 SCC 391.

[12] State Bank of India v. DC Aggarwal, AIR 1993 SC 1197.

[13] S.N Mukherjee v. India, AIR 1990 SC 1984.

[14] Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, AIR 1981 SC 818.

[15] Malak Singh v. State of Punjab and Haryana, 1981 AIR 760.

[16] Abhay Kumar v. K. Srinivasan, AIR 1981 Delhi 381.

[17] R. Radhakrishnan v. Osmania University, AIR 1974 AP 283.

Audi Alteram Partem.

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