Fairness and Natural Justice

What are Fairness and Natural Justice?

‘Natural justice’ was developed in England in the 19th century to define the rules for decision-making. Having evolved overtime, the concept is now often described as ‘procedural fairness’ or just ‘fairness’. As a result, the terms natural justice, procedural fairness, and fairness are often used interchangeably.

The two basic components of natural justice are:

1)     That the person affected by the decision:

  • Will receive notice that his or her case is being considered
  • Will be provided with the specific aspects of the case that are under consideration so that an explanation or response can be prepared
  • Will be provided with the opportunity to make submissions (written or oral) relating to the case

2)     That the decision-maker(s) will be unbiased.

To be unbiased is to be and to be seen as objective of impartial about the matter you are considering. The best way for decision-makers to be unbiased is:

  • To understand what bias is (i.e. if you have a firmly held, favourable or negative opinion about a matter or an individual). If you cannot be objective about a matter that is within your purview, you should remove yourself from the decision-making process.
  • If you are part of a committee of decision-makers, each member must feel free to make his or her own decision. Therefore, each member of the committee must be free of influence from other committee members, from outside third parties, or from the influence of those who have designated them as decision-makers.
  • Sometimes bias is alleged because it is believed the decision-maker knows too much about the matter under scrutiny. A well-informed decision-maker is not biased if she or he has an open mind and is open to persuasion by the information provided through the decision-making process.

“It is my firm belief that if all decision-makers abided by these basic principles when forming conclusions and making decisions there would be very few complaints about the fairness of decisions other than from those for whom any answer other than the one they want is unacceptable.”

Text courtesy of Nora Farrell, Ombudsperson, Ryerson University