This term denotes the basic principles of justice which are considered so fundamental as to be self-evident. A public body that fails to discharge its duties with proper regard to natural justice may be subject to an action for Judicial Review. The principles of natural justice include, for example, the following.
- There is a duty to give a fair hearing to everyone with a concern in the case. However, there is no general duty in English law for a decision-maker to hear representations in person; the invitation of written statements may be sufficient.
- There may be a duty to explain the reasoning behind a decision. However, again, there is no general duty to give reasons, and some forms of administrative decision are held to be outside this obligation altogether (e.g., academic award decisions). In Al-Fayed v Secretary of State for Home Department (2000) it was held that the duty to make a fair decision could be satisfied without giving reasons for the decision, provided the decision-maker gave the applicant an opportunity to address concerns related to the application.
- There is an obligation for the decision-maker to be impartial. If the decision-maker has a financial stake in the decision then clearly this obligation is at risk. However, non-financial interests may now disqualify a decision (cf. Lord Hoffman in the case for the deportation of General Pinochet).
- The decision made may have to give effect to an applicant’s legitimate expectations. For example, if a market trader has held a licence for a number of years, he has a legitimate expectation that he will continue to hold one. Therefore, a decision to revoke his licence will be subject to more stringent control than a decision not to grant one in the first instance.
Where a person’s legal rights are concerned, the principles of natural justice are bolstered by Art. 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is now incorporated into domestic law.