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Judicial Review – Pt 5

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All public authorities have their roles to play in the administration of government, but in their dealings with individuals they have a duty to observe the rules of natural justice. If it does not do so that authority would have exceeded his powers and will have acted in breach of the rules of natural justice.{{more}}

What is natural justice?

An important area of concern for every individual is that of fairness. There is that broad expectation of fairness in the courts of law. There is also the expectation of fairness when we deal with public authorities. Natural justice has its roots in what is fair and just to individuals who deal with public authorities. It may be traced back to Roman laws which suggest that certain principles are required by nature and are so obvious that they should be applied universally. Professor Albert Fiadjoe claims that “they are nothing more than the imposition of certain procedural safeguards on a body or person whose decisions may affect the rights, interests and legitimate expectations of others.” Natural justice has been used in support of the individual with regard to public bodies, but the safeguards have also been used with respect to individuals in other organizations such as clubs, trade unions, voluntary organization, among others. It relates more specifically to the function of a disciplinary nature or that which is similar to the judiciary.

Ridge v Baldwin

Perhaps the most celebrated case and in fact the foundation and starting point for natural justice in Administrative law is the case of Ridge v Baldwin [1964] AC. In that case a watch committee was required to give the chief constable notice of charges and opportunity to be heard before dismissing him. Fiadjoe claims that it “restored the principles of natural justice to a pedestal such that it is perhaps the most important developmental area of public law today” Prior to this case a distinction was made between judicial, quasi judicial and one hand and administrative law. This case established that a fair hearing must be accorded to the individual where a public body is concerned.

The Right to be heard

The Constitution mandates that anyone who is charged with a crime be accorded a fair hearing by a competent court of law. Hence there is sufficient safeguard in judicial proceedings for a fair hearing. On the other hand, natural justice requires public authorities to accord every one a fair hearing. A fair hearing means that a person must be given an opportunity to put his/her side of a case before a decision is reached. The essence of this principle is conveyed in the phrase audi alteram partem. This has serious implications for public bodies which make decisions on an individual without hearing their side. However, the court in deciding what is fair will try to balance the interest involved. It would, therefore, look at the “principles of good administration, speed and efficiency in the decision making, and the level of injustice that the individual suffered by the individual in having been denied the opportunity to present their case,” Fiadjoe, (1998)

On the basis of this requirement for fair hearing, an individual who is charged must be given full particulars of the charge and the opportunity whether oral or written to make representation.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.
E-mail address is: exploringthelaw@yahoo.com

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