HomeLegal Columns“Principles of Natural Justice- Rule Against Bias” - I

“Principles of Natural Justice- Rule Against Bias” – I

INTRODUCTION

Natural Justice, in the words of Megarry J., is nothing but, “justice that is simple and elementary, as distinct from justice that is complex, sophisticated and technical”[1]. This concept in the Indian context can be traced back to the case of Mohinder Singh Gill v. Chief Election Commissioner[2] which held that the executive while exercising a judicial or quasi-judicial, purely administrative or quasi legislative function, is mandatorily required to be fair in its actions. The Doctrine of Bias also called ‘Nemo debet esse judex in popria causa’, can only be truly comprehended by the readers if one really analyses the meaning of the word ‘bias’. It should be noted here that bias is nothing but a pre-conceived notion or a pre-determination towards a party to the dispute or in some cases the subject matter of the dispute. Factors like pecuniary/personal/subject matter/policy et al. loom heavily to form a person’s bias.

The author would like to bust the myth between two hugely confused words here: ‘bias’ and ‘mala fide’. The amazing work of Prof. M.P. Jain comes to mind to distinguish the two, who goes on to say – “Bias is a result of an attitude of the mind which ultimately leads to difficulties in proving balance of probabilities for which a man supposedly expected to act judicially, acted biased.” On the other hand, the term ‘mala fide’ indicates a person’s ulterior motives of which proof is required to justify the same. No proof is required by court in the case of ‘Bias’. Similarly, there exists a gulf between ‘Bias’ and ‘Prejudice’. Webster has defined prejudice as a preconceived opinion without due knowledge. ‘Bias’, as already elucidated is the predilection or pre-possession of mind, not leaving it indifferent. Now that the general tone of the research has been set, the author wishes to explore in detail the evolution of doctrine of bias through the prism of judicial pronouncements, essentials of the doctrine of bias, classification of doctrine of bias and the existing judicial trends.

RULE AGAINST BIAS

Meaning

According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, “anything which tends or may be regarded as tending to cause such a person to decide a case otherwise than on evidence must be held to be biased”.

Rule against bias forms one of the two essential pillars of principles of natural justice and can be further broken down into three guiding factors which also constitute the essentials of this doctrine; firstly, “no man be a judge in his own cause” and secondly, “justice should not only be done but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done”[3] and lastly “Judges, like Ceasar’s wife should be above suspicion”. Hence, a decision which is a result of bias is a nullity and the trial is “coram non judice[4]. The importance of applying the rule of nullity is paramount since this helps in securing public trust in the administrative adjudicatory process and it also helps in avoidance of the possibility of a partial decision, which can be a huge blow.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court in Crawford Bayley & Co. v. Union of India[5] further enumerated that the doctrine of rule against bias comes into play when the official person concerned with rendering justice has shown a personal connection or interest and has further acted in pursuance of this intent. Thus, no comity between the parties and the adjudicating body should be established and the Indian courts have taken that into consideration as being the bulwark of justice and transparency.

Scope

Is every kind of inclination sufficient to nullify an administrative action? The simple answer is: No. There must be a nexus that has to be established between the action taken and how it can be perceived in form of a bias. If a preference is said to be rational and unaccompanied by tones of personal interest, pecuniary or otherwise, it would not render a decision invalid on that premise alone. A senior officer applauding the work of a junior in the confidential report, it will not amount to bias nor would it preclude the officer from being part of the Departmental Promotion Committee to consider such junior officer along with others for promotion[6]. Bias can exist in multiple forms and can affect a decision in various ways. Hence, to administer justice correctly, it becomes necessary to distinguish what is bias under the purview of doctrine against bias and what is not.


[1] John v. Rees, 1970 Ch 345.

[2] Mohinder Singh Gillv v. Chief Election Commissioner 1953 1 WLR 1150.

[3] R. v. Sussex Justices, 1924 I KB 256, 259.

[4] Ranjit Thakur v. Union of India, 1987 4 SCC 611.

[5] Crawford Bayley & Co. v. Union of India, 2006 6 SCC 25.

[6] G.N. Nayak v. Goa University, 2002 2 SCC 712.

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Law Wire Team
Law Wire Teamhttps://lawwire.in/
Law Wire Team attempts to delve into pertinent (and sometimes not immediately pertinent) questions regarding socio-politics, Law and their interesting matrix.
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