Audi Alteram Partem (Right to Hearing)
As lord Denning “if the right to be heard is to be a real right which is worth anything if must carry with it a right in the acussed man to know the case which is made against him.” The development of audi alteram partem principle has like many other legal concepts been eclectic. An early group of cases was concerned with deprivation of offices requiring notice and a hearing prior to deprivation. Another somewhat later group involved in the clergy penalties or disciplinary measures to which the clergy were subjected had to be preceded by notice and a hearing. In 19th century the audi alteram partem principle was applied to wide variety of bodies’ private as well as public clubs, associations and trade unions were included within its ambit. The increase in the regularity role of public authorities provided further opportunity for the generalized application of maxim. Thus in cooper v wandsworth board of works it was held that the demolition powers vested in the defendant Board were to be subject to notice and hearing requirements. The generality of application of audi alteram partem maxim and its flexibility in operation were brought out by Lord Loreburn L.C who stated that the maxim applied to everyone who decides anything while recognizing also that the manner in which a person’s case was heard did not necessarily have to be the same as an ordinary trial.
To be a fair hearing an assumption is made that there must be three rights:
- Sufficient notice is given to allow the case to be adequately prepared
- That at any hearing a person will be entitled to know what evidence has been produced against him or her.
- There must be proper opportunity to contest correct or contradict any such evidence to sates one’s case and raise any relevant matters before the tribunal.
- to an opportunity to reply in a way that is appropriate for the circumstances
- for his/her reply to be received and considered before the decision is made
- to receive all relevant information before preparing his/her reply
- to a reasonable chance to consider their position and prepare a response. However, what is reasonable can vary according to the complexity of the issue, whether an urgent decision is essential or any other relevant matter, and
- to genuine consideration of any submission. The Delegate needs to be fully aware of everything written or said by the clearance subject, and give proper and genuine consideration to his/her case.
In addition a fair hearing may also include being provided with legal representation, the right to cross examination, witness or reasons for a decision.
It means, Hear the other side, or both the sides, It is the first principle of the civilized jurisprudence that a person, against whom any action is sought to be taken or whose right or interest beinf affected should be given a reasonable opportunity to defend himself hearing, means a fair hearing.
This is basic requisition of rule of law; it has been described as fundamental and foundation concept. The situations of cases of different nature, as the norms of fair hearing can vary from body to body and cases to case there is no rigid formula or invariable standard to deal with the concept of fair herring like tight to notice , right to present case and evidence, right to rebut evidence through cross examination and legal representation or right o council, reasoned decision , specking order, institutionalized or one who decides must hear , rule against dictation, financial incapacity to attend the inquiry officers report etc, these decision principles as not embodied rules contemplated in a single frame work nor are they flexible in number with certain limitation . Components of fair hearing are
Notice–before any action is taken, the effected party must be given a notice to show cause against the proposed action and seek his explanation ,it is a sine qua non of the right of fair hearing and any passed with out giving notice is against the principle of nature justice is void in ab initio.
Hearing- A basic principle of the natural justice is that before of the adjudication starts the authority concerned should of the cases against him and the action purposed to be taken against him so that he may accurately defendant, notice is the first and extremely important step in haring procedure, any proceeding taken without notice would violate natural justice and would be invalid.
The doctrine of ‘audi alteram partem’ is the basic notion of the principle of natural justice. The doctrine says that no one should be condemned unheard. In the field of administrative decisions, this principle has been applied to unsure fair play and justice to affected persons.
The right to a fair hearing requires that individuals are not penalized by decisions affecting their rights or legitimate expectations unless they have been given prior notice of the cases against them, a fair opportunity to answer them, and the opportunity to present their own cases.
Administrative agencies are not bound by the technical rules of procedure of law courts; this accentuates the need to follow the minimum procedure of fair hearing.
(i) Right to Notice
Notice embodies rule of fairness, and must precede an adverse order. Adequate time must be given to respond. If requirement of notice is a statutory requirement, then notice must be given in a manner provided by law.
Notice is the starting point of any hearing. Unless a person knows the formulation of subjects and issues involved in the case, he cannot defend himself. Notice must also be adequate, which generally means it must state: (i) time, place and nature of hearing, (ii) legal authority under which the hearing is to be held, and (iii) specific charges which the person has to meet.
Gajendra Bahadur v. District Land Reform Office Kathmandu (NKP 2050, p. 671)- Decision cannot be taken in the absence of the concerned party, by merely publishing notice in a newspaper, without duly serving notice pursuant to the law.
(ii) Right to know evidence against him
Every person before an administrative authority exercising adjudicatory powers has the right to know the evidence to be used against him.
Nothing should be used against the person, which has not been brought to his notice.
(iii) Right to present case and evidence
The adjudicatory authority should afford reasonable opportunity to the party to present his case. This can be done orally or through writing.
Nyuchhemaya Tuladhar v. Rupandehi Dist. Court (NKP 2050, p.231)- Where proceedings required inclusion of registered persons other than the borrower, and the auction notice which was published did not include such registered persons, therefore, the proceeding requiring such registered persons to make payment without the opportunity to be heard is against the principle of natural justice. SC order Rupandehi and Ktm dist courts to issue notices to the registered persons.
(iv) Right to rebut adverse evidence
It is not enough that the party should know the adverse material on file but it is further necessary that he must have an opportunity to rebut the evidence. Rebuttal can be done either orally or in writing.
The opportunity to rebut evidence necessarily involves the consideration of two factors: cross-examination and legal representation.
Cross-examination: Courts do not insist on cross examination in administrative adjudication, unless the circumstances are such that in the absence of it a person cannot put up an effective defence.
Legal Representation- A fair hearing in administrative proceeding will not necessarily include the right to legal representation. Representation will, however, normally be permitted.
(v) No evidence should be taken at the back of the other party
Whatever information (evidence) is obtained by the administrative authority must be disclosed to the other part, and an opportunity to rebut it must be provided.
(vi) Report of enquiry to be shown to the other party
In very many cases, especially in disciplinary matters, it happens that the inquiry is entrusted to someone else and on the report being submitted, action is taken by the competent authority.
A copy of the report of the inquiry officer should be supplied to the affected party before the authority takes a decision on the guilt and the consequential punishment on the basis of the report of the inquiry officer.
(vii) Reasoned Decision or Speaking Orders
Kalar Thakur Hajam v. District Land Reform Office Saptari (NKP 2043, p.304)-
An official with authority to take a judicial or quasi-judicial decision, while deciding, must consider evidence and decide by giving reasons for the decision.
Use of judicial conscience – The SC of Nepal at times uses the term ‘judicial conscience’, similar in meaning to reasoned decision.
(viii) One who must hear must decide, or Institutional Decision
The term institutional decision is popular in American law.
Unlike law courts, the decision in many administrative proceedings is not the decision of one man from start to finish. Often one person hears and another decides. The divided responsibility may work contrary to the concept of fair hearing.
Whatever may be the merit of this rule, the fact remains that in view of the complexity of modern administration, a literal application of this rule will bring the wheels of administration to a grinding halt. Thus, the person or authority charged with the responsibility of taking a decision may take help from subordinates, but be must be personally consider and appraise the evidence and independently come to a decision.
(ix) Rule against dictation
Any administrative authority invested with the power of decision-making must exercise this power in exercise of its own judgment. If a decision is taken at the direction of any outside agency, there is violation of fair hearing.
(x) Decision post-haste
Fundamentals of fair hearing demand that the administrative authority must not rush decision. It may compromise procedures related to fair hearing.
Exceptions to the Rule of Natural Justice (situations when these rules do not apply)
In cases of emergency where prompt action, preventive or remedial, is needed, the requirement for notice and hearing may be removed.
Eg., access to police surveillance register
(iii) Purely administrative matters
The principles of natural justice apply to only judicial and quasi-judicial decisions. The discretion of HMG to grant approval for prosecution of corruption related allegations is a purely administrative function and not a quasi-judicial function, and hence, the principle of natural justice do not apply to it. – Mukti Sharma v. Tek Bahadur (NKP 2017, p.101).
The rule was reinforced in the case of Yagyamurti Banjade v. Durga Das Shrestha (NKP 2027, p.157), where the court expressed the difference between judicial, quasi-judicial and purely administrative, and held that the rule of natural justice must be adopted in quasi-judicial decisions, not in purely administrative decisions.
(iv) Based on Impracticability
If it is administratively impracticable to ensure fair hearing to all (usually very larger numbers) of affected persons.
(v) Interim preventive action
If the action of the administrative authority is a suspension order in the nature of a preventive action and not a final order, the application of the principles of natural justice may be excluded.
(vi) Legislative action
Legislative action, plenary or subordinate, is not subject to the rules of natural justice because these legislation lay down a policy without reference to a particular individual.
(vii) Where no right of the person is infringed
Where no right has been conferred on a person by any law, the principles of natural justice are not applicable.
(viii) Statutory Exception or Necessity
Disqualification on the ground of bias against a person will not be applicable if he is the only person competent or authorized to decide that matter or take that action.
(ix) Contractual Arrangement
Termination of an arrangement/agreement is neither a quasi-judicial act, so the duty to act judicially is not attracted.
(x) Government Policy Decision
If in exercise of executive powers the government takes any policy decision, principles of natural justice can be excluded because it will be impossible and impracticable to give formal hearing to all those who may be affected whenever a policy decision is taken and at times it will be against the public interest to do so.
(xi) Useless formality theory
Where on the admitted or undisputed facts only one conclusion is possible and under the law only one penalty is permissible, the Court may not insist on the observance of the principles of natural justice.
(xii) Disciplinary Action
In public or govt. services, especially army and police, to enforce discipline
But usually not total exclusion of natural justice rules.