SUPREME COURT REITERATES THAT NON-OBSERVANCE OF PRINCIPLES OF NATURAL JUSTICE WILL NOT RENDER THE PROCEEDINGS INVALID

A Three Judge Bench of the Hon’ble #SupremeCourt comprising of Justice RF Nariman, Justice Navin Sinha and Justice KM Joseph passed a Judgment dated October 16, 2020 in the case of State of U.P. v. Sudhir Kumar Singh (Civil Appeal No. 3498 of 2020) and held that #breach of principles of #naturaljustice will not render the proceedings invalid unless prejudice is caused to the litigants.

In the present case, the Allahabad High Court had set aside the cancellation of some tenders for unloading/loading of foodgrains/fertilizer bags into railway wagons, trucks etc., stacking the foodgrains/fertlizers in bags, bagging, standardization, cleaning of food grains/fertilizers etc. and transporting of food grains/fertilizers etc. from Railway Station to Corporate godowns or vice versa or transporting them from place to place for the Vindhyachal (Mirzapur) region, on the ground of breach of principles of natural justice. The High Court observed that as the award of tender in favour of the Applicant was cancelled, it constituted a breach of the principle of audi alteram partem.

The Apex Court while dismissing the State’s Appeal against the Judgment of High Court of Allahabad laid down the following guidelines:

  • “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.
  • ..
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.”

Suchitra Upadhyay

Associate

The Indian Lawyer & Allied Services

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