NEMO DEBET ESSE JUDEX IN PROPRIA CAUSA By – Sushma Gowda

Literal meaning:-No one can be a judge in his own case

Origin:- Nemo debet esse judex in propia causa is a Latin maxim meaning ‘no one ought to be a judge in his own cause’. It applies to two types of cases.

Firstly, a judge is precluded from presiding over a case in which s/he directly appears as a party.

Secondly a judge is precluded from decided a case in which s/he has an interest.

 It is trite law that no one should hear a case wherein s/he himself is interested in one way or the other. The justice system enshrines the basic highlights of justice equity and good conscience. Justice means justice by all means. Impartiality, absence of bias, fearlessness and assertion are the qualities highlighted by an unbiased approach to the judicial system. If one sits in his own case as a judge and decides the case, the justice delivery system will never be free from criticism. So it is imperative that no one shall be a judge in a case where s/he is either directly or indirectly a party.

Explanation:-Nemo in propria causa judex , esse debet, i.e.; no one should be made a judge in his own cause. It is popularly known as the rule against bias. It is the minimal requirement of the natural justice that the authority giving decision must be composed of impartial persons acting fairly, without prejudice and bias. Bias means an operative prejudice, whether conscious or unconscious, as result of some preconceived opinion or predisposition, in relation to a party or an issue. Dictionary meaning of the term bias suggests anything which tends a person to decide a case other than on the basis of evidence.

The rule against bias strikes against those factors which may improperly influence a judge against arriving at a decision in a particular case. This rule is based on the premises that it is against human psychology to decide a case against his own interest. The basic objective of this rule is to ensure public confidence in the impartiality of the administrative adjudicatory process, for as per Lord Hewart CJ, in R v. Sussex, justice should not only be done but also manifestly and undoubtedly seen to be done.

Illustration:-

“(a)”Nemo debet esse judex in propria causa: No man shall be a judge in his own cause, or no man can act as both at the one and the same time – a party or a suitor and also as a judge,or the deciding authority must be impartial and  without bias; and

“The aim of the rules of natural justice is to secure justice or to put it negatively to prevent a miscarriage of justice. These rules can operate only in areas not covered by any law validly made. In other words, they do not supplant the law of the land but supplement it. The concept of natural justice has undergone a great deal of change in recent years. In the past it was thought that it included just two rules namely:

 (1 ) no one shall be a judge in his own case (Nemo debet esse judex propria causa)

 (2 ) no decision shall be given against a party without affording him a reasonable hearing (Audi alteram partem).

very soon thereafter a third rule was envisaged and that is that quasi-judicial enquiries must be held in good faith, without bias and not arbitrarily or unreasonably. But in the course of years many more subsidiary rules came to be added to the rules of natural justice. Till very recently it was the opinion of the courts that unless the authority concerned was required by the law under which it functioned to act judicially there was no room for the application of the rules of natural justice.

 The validity of that limitation is now questioned. If the purpose of the rules of natural justice is to prevent a miscarriage of justice one fails to see why those rules should be made inapplicable to administrative enquiries. Often times it is not easy to draw the line that demarcates administrative enquiries from quasi-judicial enquiries. Enquiries which were considered administrative at one time are now being considered as quasi-judicial in character. Arriving at a just decision is the aim of both quasi-judicial enquiries as well as administrative enquiries. An unjust decision in an administrative enquiry may have a more far-reaching effect than a decision in a quasi-judicial enquiry.

As observed by this Court in Suresh Koshy George v. University of Kerala the rules of natural justice are not embodied rules. What particular rule of natural justice should apply to a given case must depend to a great extent on the facts and circumstances of that case, the framework of the law under which the enquiry is held and the constitution of the Tribunal or body of persons appointed for that purpose. Whenever a complaint is made before a court that some principle of natural justice had been contravened the court has to decide whether the observance of that rule was necessary for a just decision on the facts of that case.”

Case References:-

In-State of Orissa v. Dr. (Miss) Binapani Dei and Ors.(1) Shah, J. speaking for the Court, dealing with an enquiry made as regards the correct age of a government servant, observed thus “We think that such an enquiry and decision were contrary to the basic concept of justice and cannot have any value. It is true that the order is administrative in character,but even an administrative order which involves civil consequences as already stated, must be made consistently with the rules of natural justice after informing the first respondent of the case of the State The aim of the rules of natural justice is to secure justice or to put it negatively to prevent miscarriage of justice.

These rules can operate only in areas not covered by any law validly made. In other words, they do not supplant the law of the land but supplement it. The concept of natural justice has undergone a great deal of change in recent years. Very soon thereafter a third rule was envisaged and that is that quasi-judicial enquiries must be held in good faith, without bias and not arbitrarily.

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