Principles of Natural Justice in Adjudication Proceedings: Ensuring Fairness in Customs and Excise Matters


In the realm of customs and excise law, the concept of fairness and justice is paramount. When disputes or administrative actions have civil consequences, such as those involving the Customs Act, Central Excise Act, or the Finance Act, 1994, adherence to the principles of natural justice is essential. In this blog, we explore the significance of these principles in adjudication proceedings and how they ensure a fair and just process.

Understanding Principles of Natural Justice:

The term “Principles of Natural Justice” (PNJ) is rooted in Roman law and may or may not be explicitly stated in statutes. However, they are fundamental and non-negotiable in ensuring a fair process. PNJ embody the minimum safeguards for individuals facing decisions made by judicial, quasi-judicial, or administrative authorities, especially when those decisions affect their rights and interests.

Supplementing, Not Supplanting the Law:

It’s crucial to understand that PNJ do not replace existing laws but complement them. In the absence of explicit statutory provisions waiving the observance of these principles, they must be upheld in all judicial, quasi-judicial, and administrative proceedings with civil consequences. This principle was affirmed in landmark cases like A.K. Kraipak vs. Union of India and Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India.

The Three Pillars of Natural Justice:

PNJ are comprised of three core principles:

  1. Nemo debet esse judex in propria causa: This Latin phrase translates to “no one should be a judge in their cause.” In essence, it means that those responsible for making decisions must be impartial and unbiased. The authority presiding over a case should inspire confidence by being impartial, ensuring justice not only is done but is seen to be done.
  2. Audi alteram partem: Translated as “hear the other side,” this principle dictates that every party involved must have an opportunity to present their case and be heard. This opportunity extends beyond mere auditory hearings and encompasses effective hearings. It involves issuing precise notices, providing adequate time for responses, and granting personal hearings.
  3. Speaking Orders or Reasoned Decisions: In addition to hearing both sides, authorities must provide reasoned decisions. These decisions should explain the basis for the outcome, ensuring transparency and accountability. This principle has become more prominent due to the evolving constitutional and administrative law.

Bias: A Critical Aspect of Natural Justice:

Bias is a fundamental element of natural justice and is categorized into three types: pecuniary, personal, and official bias. Pecuniary bias arises when decision-makers have a financial interest in the case. Personal bias may stem from relationships or grievances, while official bias can occur when administrators are tasked with implementing policies they also oversee.

Examples of PNJ Violations:

Several instances can lead to violations of principles of natural justice:

  • Denial of the right to cross-examine witnesses whose statements are relied upon.
  • Fixing multiple dates of personal hearing in a single letter, denying reasonable opportunities.
  • Refusal to allow cross-examination of departmental officers involved in the seizure.
  • Failure to provide copies of relied-upon documents.
  • Passing orders based on materials not disclosed to the affected party.


In customs and excise matters, adhering to the principles of natural justice is not merely a procedural requirement; it’s the essence of a fair adjudication process. These principles ensure transparency, accountability, and the prevention of miscarriages of justice. By understanding and upholding PNJ, authorities in this field can promote fairness and uphold the rule of law.

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