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In Jurisprudence, the term ‘Natural Law’ means those rules and principles which are considered to have emanated from some supreme source. Some say that these originated from God. The movement for the freedom of individuals against the absolute authority of the state started in the name of ‘natural law’. Natural law theory defines “law as the dictate of reason”. The theorists are called the Naturalists. Law consists of principles of Justice and morality which are deduced from the objective moral principles of nature. These are rules of conduct for human beings and maybe discovered by natural reason and common sense. These are true laws and are not obligatory but are followed naturally by the people. The theories about natural law have not been evolved to explain any given legal system, but rather to serve an ulterior end, namely, the fulfillment of the social need of the age. Naturalists oppose the positive law founded in Codes, Statutes, Constitutions, etc., These are obligatory and are enforced by force All these, which are opposed to natural law are only a violation or abuse of law.

The ancient theories known to us are from Rome, Greece, and India. In Greece, Heraclitus pointed out that reason is one of the indispensable features of being. The instability of political institutions and frequent change in law and government in small city-states of Greece made some jurists think that law was for the purpose of serving the interests of the strong and was a matter of convenience. Socrates however believed that man possesses ‘insight’ and this insight lets him understand the goodness and badness of things and makes him know the absolute and eternal moral values. Aristotle said that man is a part of nature in two ways: first, he is the part of the creatures of God, and second, he possesses active reason by which he can shape his will. He further said that ‘the man’s reason being the part of the nature, the law discovered by reason is called natural justice. Aristotle gave natural law a very firm ground to stand upon.

According to the Hindu view, Law originated from the divine. Law is given in ‘Shruti’ and ‘Smritis’. The King is simply to execute that law and he himself is bound by it and if he goes against this law, he should be disobeyed. Puranas are full of instances where the kings were dethroned and beheaded when they went against the established law.

Aquinas from the medieval era took Church to be a lawgiver. He believed that social organizations and states are natural phenomena. He defined law as ‘an ordinance of reason for the common good made by him who has the care of the community and promulgated’. He divided law into four categories namely Law of God, Natural law which is revealed through reason of man, Law of Scriptures, and Human Laws. Aquinas blended the political philosophy of Aristotle with that of the Christian faith and built a very logical and elastic theory of “natural law”. He identified ‘natural law’ with reason, although this ‘reason’ was the reason of the Catholic Church.

‘Reason’ is the foundation stone of all the theories, but it is secularized ‘reason’ and not the theological ‘reason’. The men entered into an agreement known as pactum unionis for the protection of their lives and property. Thus, society came into existence. Then they entered in a second agreement known as pactum subjectionis by which the people, who had united earlier, undertook to obey authority, and surrendered the whole or a part of their freedom and rights and the authority on its part guaranteed every one of them, the protection of his life, property and to certain extent liberty. ‘Government’ or ‘Sovereign’ or ‘Ruler’ came into being.

Reason or rationalism was the spirit of 18th-century thought. A reaction against this abstract thought was long overdue. Modern skepticism preached that there are no absolute and unchangeable principles. Natural law is relative and not abstract and unchangeable.

 The Indian Constitution embodies several principles of ‘natural law’. It guarantees certain basic liberty to everyone i.e., Fundamental Rights to citizens. It empowers the High Courts and the Supreme Court to exercise control of the administrative and quasi-judicial tribunals and one of the grounds on which orders passed by the latter may be set aside is the violation of the principles of ‘natural law’. The principle of natural justice has been incorporated in Article 311 which says that no civil servant can be dismissed or removed or reduced in rank until he has been given a reasonable opportunity of showing cause against the action proposed to be taken against him. Further, these maxims reinstate the importance of natural justice; ‘nemo judex in causa sua’ or ‘nemo debet esse judex in propria causea sua’ which means that no man shall be judge in his own cause, ‘audi alteram partem’ means hear the other side and ‘qui aliquid statuerit parte inaudita alteram actquam licet dixerit, haud acquum facerit’ which means he who shall decide anything without the other side having been heard although he may have said what is right, will not have been what is right. Hence, Justice should not only be done but should manifestly be seen to be done.

Some changes were bought about in the administrative field with respect to natural law in India. It will become apparent with the following cases:

  • A.K. Kraipak v. Union of India [1]– it was held in this case that the aim of the rules of natural justice is to secure justice or to put it negatively to prevent miscarriage of justice. Whenever a complaint is made before a Court that some principle of natural justice had been contravened, the court must decide whether the observance of that rule was necessary for a just decision on facts of the case.
  • Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India [2]– it was held that the test of applicability to be applied in all the cases. The aim of both administrative enquiry as well as quasi-judicial enquiry is to arrive at a just decision and if a rule of natural justice is calculated to secure justice or to put it negatively, to prevent miscarriage of justice, it is difficult to see why it should be applicable to quasi-judicial enquiry and not to administrative enquiry. Natural justice is to ensure justice and fairness and has consequently become an all-pervading doctrine in a major part of administrative actions. The person proceeded against must know that he is being required to meet the allegation which might lead to certain action being taken against him. If that is made known the requirements are met.

 The Supreme Court said that “if a party, despite having notice choose not to appear, he cannot later claim that he had been denied the fair opportunity of hearing”. The Supreme Court has stated that the rules of natural justice are not rigid or immutable but are changeable. The approach of the court in dealing with such cases should be pragmatic rather than pedantic, realistic rather than idealistic, and doctrinaire functional [3] rather than formal and practical rather than presidential.

[1] A.I.R. 1970 S.C. 150

[2] A.I.R. 1978 S.C. 597,626

[3] It means to impose a doctrine in all circumstances without regard to practical considerations.

It is however not always necessary for the court to strike down an order merely because the order has been passed against the petitioner in breach of natural justice. The Court can under section 32 and section 226 refuse to exercise its discretion of striking down the order if such striking down will result in restoration of another order passed earlier in favor of the petitioner and against the opposite party, in violation of the principles of natural justice or is otherwise not in accordance with the law. In State Bank of Patiala v. S.K Sharma and Rajendra Singh v. M.P [1]– it was held that even in a relation to a statutory provision requiring notice, a distinction is to be made between cases where the provision is intended for individual benefit and where a provision is intended to protect the public interest.

[1] (1967) 3 SCR 49 and AIR 1965 MP 126.



Table of Cases

Sr. No.Case Name
1.A.K. Kraipak v. Union of India, A.I.R. 1970 S.C. 150
2.Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, A.I.R. 1978 S.C. 597,626
3.State Bank of Patiala v. S.K. Sharma (1967) 3 SCR 49
4.Rajendra Singh v. State of M.P. AIR 1965 MP 126.


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