What is natural justice?

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Judicial Review LawyerThe words “natural justice” have specific meaning in the law. Natural justice comprises two rules, the rule against bias and the rule of the right to a fair hearing. Because of the necessity of maintaining public confidence in the legal system - which includes not only the courts but all public decision making bodies, it is most important that people who are engaged in these processes feel that they have had a fair hearing and that there has been no bias.

Bias can take the form of actual bias or imputed or apparent bias.  Actual bias is where it can be established that the person making a decision was prejudiced for or against a party. If the decision maker had a monetary, proprietary or personal interest in the matter then bias may be imputed. Apparent bias is when the conduct or behaviour of the decision maker suggests that their decisions are not impartial.

The right to a fair hearing requires that participants in the justice system should not be penalised by decisions that affect their rights unless they have been given;

1) prior notice of the case;
2) fair opportunity to answer the case; and
3) the opportunity to present their case properly. 

In New Zealand, the Judicature Amendment Act that permits citizens aggrieved with the decision making process to seek redress in the High Court using the principals of natural justice as the basis for their claim.

Recently the Government changed the Judicature Amendment Act allow the decisions made by incorporated societies to be reviewed in the High Court. Accordingly if the decision making of the committee of an incorporated society breaches the rules of natural justice then the High Court will give a remedy for that breach.

In the case of Stratford Racing Club Inc. v Adlam the Court of Appeal found that the committee of the Stratford Racing Club did not have a complete discretion as to whom to accept as members – in other words they could not “blackball” people applying for membership and the principals of natural justice were applied to give the blackballed members the right to become members of the Society.

It is important for incorporated societies to understand how to ensure that their decisions meet the rules of natural justice, and be aware that there is a legal requirement for them to do so.

Because the High Court is involved in the “judicial review” process, applications for judicial review of decisions are not cheap to bring and only serious cases should be brought. For further advice or information on judicial review and the rules of natural justice, please contact Peter Smith by phone on 837 6882 or email peter.smith@smithpartners.co.nz

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