Academic journal article Journal of Politics and Law

The Doctrine of Natural Justice under Civil and Military Administrations in Nigeria

Academic journal article Journal of Politics and Law

The Doctrine of Natural Justice under Civil and Military Administrations in Nigeria

Article excerpt


In all human affairs, there has been established the need for a generally acceptable code of conduct and procedure in the administration of justice, civil or criminal which must be seriously observed by all in relationships with fellow human beings. This is particularly applicable to those who are saddled with the sacred responsibility of steering the ship of the State. In this wise, the place of natural justice is pivotal and has deservedly been elevated to the realm of great importance by all civilized communities. This article traces the origin of Natural Justice and discusses the two basic ideas in which Natural Justice is embodied i.e. audi alterem partem and nemo judex in causa sua. It also discusses the doctrine of Natural Justice under the Civil and Military rule in Nigeria and some other jurisdictions. The Article concluded by identifying some problems associated with the enforcement of Natural Justice and made recommendations.

Keyword: constitutional law, doctrine of natural justice

1. Introduction

Natural justice as a concept did not start with modern government; it is as old as the existence of mankind on earth evidently borne out of cultivated traditional attitudinal disposition of fairness in man to man relationship for which Natural Justice as a concept has attained notoriety. In fact, what seems to have happened to the doctrine in this age of globalization is the codification of several scattered principles of Natural Justice in statute books, partly for ease of reference and to concretize the long standing right of place of the doctrine.

1.1 Origin of Natural Justice

Historically, it was Hugo Grotius, a Dutch (born at Delft in Holland, 1583 - 1645), who built up what became known as the law of nature, or natural law. For his contribution to the growth of natural law, he is referred to as the father of the law of nature as well as the father of the law of nations (Note 1).

Before Grotius, opinion was generally prevalent that above the positive law, which is law which had developed by custom or by legislation of a State, there was in existence another law which has its root in human reason, and which could be regarded without any knowledge of positive law. This law of reason was called law of nature or natural law.

According to Dr. Ezejiofor (Note 2), the concept of natural law was first formulated systematically by the Stoics after the breakdown of the Greek City States; for the Stoics, natural law was universal as it applied not only to citizens of certain states, but rather to everybody everywhere in the cosmopolis. This law was superior to any positive law and embodied those elementary principles of justice apparent to the eye of reason. It is from this natural law that we derive fundamental rights or natural rights which may be defined as moral rights which every human being, everywhere at all times ought to have, simply because of the fact that, in contradiction with other beings, we are rational and moral. No one may be deprived of these rights without grave affront to justice (Note 3).

The rules of natural justice are therefore a part of natural law and relate to the minimum standards of fair decision-making imposed by the common law on persons and bodies that are under a duty to act judicially (Note 4). The principles of Natural Justices are embodied in two basic ideas, audi älterem partem and nemo judex in causa sua.

2. Audi Älterem Partem

The principle of audi älterem partem (hear both sides) which is one of the twin pillars of natural justice is primarily about giving an individual the opportunity of being heard before he can incur either the loss of liberty, right or property for any wrong or offence committed by him. Most of the earliest reported decisions in which the rule was applied concerned summary proceedings before Judges. In R. v. Dyer (Note 5), the court held that the service of summons upon the party affected was a condition precedent to the validity of such proceedings not only in criminal matters but also in applications for the issue of distress, warrants and orders for levying taxes and other charges imposed by public authorities upon their subjects. …

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