SC: Per se infraction of provisions of law embodying principles of natural justice does not lead to invalidity of the orders passed

The Hon’ble Supreme Court, on 16th October 2020, in the matter of State of U.P. v. Sudhir Kumar Singh and Ors. pronounced that where procedural and/or substantive provisions of law embody the principles of natural justice, their infraction per se does not lead to invalidity of the orders passed.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that:

Every case in which a citizen/person knocks at the doors of the writ court for breach of his or its fundamental rights is a matter which contains a “public law element”, as opposed to a case which is concerned only with breach of contract and damages flowing therefrom. Whenever a plea of breach of natural justice is made against the State, the said plea, if found sustainable, sounds in constitutional law as arbitrary State action, which attracts the provisions of Article 14 of the Constitution of India. (Para 23)

Natural justice is a flexible tool in the hands of the judiciary to reach out in fit cases to remedy injustice. The breach of the audi alteram partem rule cannot by itself, without more, lead to the conclusion that prejudice is thereby caused. (Para 39 (1))

Where procedural and/or substantive provisions of law embody the principles of natural justice, their infraction per se does not lead to invalidity of the orders passed. Here again, prejudice must be caused to the litigant, except in the case of a mandatory provision of law which is conceived not only in individual interest, but also in public interest. (Para 39 (2))

No prejudice is caused to the person complaining of the breach of natural justice where such person does not dispute the case against him or it. This can happen by reason of estoppel, acquiescence, waiver and by way of non-challenge or non-denial or admission of facts, in cases in which the Court finds on facts that no real prejudice can therefore be said to have been caused to the person complaining of the breach of natural justice. (Para 39 (3))

In cases where facts can be stated to be admitted or indisputable, and only one conclusion is possible, the Court does not pass futile orders of setting aside or remand when there is, in fact, no prejudice caused. This conclusion must be drawn by the Court on an appraisal of the facts of a case, and not by the authority who denies natural justice to a person. (Para 39 (4))

The “prejudice” exception must be more than a mere apprehension or even a reasonable suspicion of a litigant. It should exist as a matter of fact, or be based upon a definite inference of likelihood of prejudice flowing from the non-observance of natural justice. (Para 39 (5))

Copy of judgement: Judgement_16-Oct-2020

-Adv. Tushar Kaushik

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