Importance of Principles of Natural Justice in cases of sexual harassment at workplace

August 16, 2023
Principles of Natural Justice

By Anuradha Gandhi and Rachita Thakur


The Principles of Natural Justice form an essential ingredient of the Indian judicial mechanism which is based on the concept of fairness, moral principles, and elimination of various kinds of biases. These principles form the foundation for protecting the rights of the parties against any arbitrary decision that may be taken by the judicial authorities.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (hereinafter referred to as the “POSH Act”) has been a major milestone achievement to recognize the rights of women against sexual harassment at workplace.

One of the cornerstones of the POSH Act is to provide active Redressal to the victims of sexual harassment in an organization and for that purpose, the constitution of the Internal Committee (hereinafter referred to as the “IC”) in an organization is mandatory for employers. The POSH Act and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Rules, 2013(hereinafter referred to as the “Rules”) provide for the manner in which the IC is to conduct the inquiry into a complaint of sexual harassment, submission of the IC report, recommendations of the IC, punishment and penalties to be imposed, etc. Rule 7 (4) of the Rules, specifically mention that the IC shall make inquiry into the complaint in accordance with the principles of natural justice.

What are the Principles of Natural Justice?

The concept of Principles of Natural Justice was evolved to act as a check on the undemocratic and authoritarian use of power and secure the ends of justice. These principles include:

1. No one should be a judge in his own matter (Nemo judex in casua sua)
2. No one can be condemned unheard (Audi altrem partem)

The above-mentioned are the main principles that have paved the way for many other principles of natural justice that buttress the main principles.

Principles of Natural Justice and their relevance

In a recent ruling in the case of Dr. R.K. Pichauri v. Union of India and Others,1 the Industrial Tribunal, New Delhi, iterated the importance of following the principles of natural justice.

Brief facts of the case were such that the Appellant (deceased) being the Director General of the Energy Research Institute (TERI) preferred an appeal against the judgment of the IC and the Complainant stating that the IC conducted the inquiry in a predetermined and haste manner without following the principles of natural justice.

The Tribunal dismissed the appeal and stated that there was no reason for the Tribunal to interfere with the report of the IC as there was sufficient evidence on record to establish a case of sexual harassment. The Tribunal categorically mentioned that though the POSH Act does not provide for procedure to be followed by the IC but leaves it to be framed by the Rules and the Rules so framed by the Ministry of Women and Child Development via Rule 7 state that the IC will carry out the proceedings as per the principles of natural justice.

“It is important to take into consideration that ICC is a fact-finding body which gives recommendations on allegations of sexual harassment at work places. The very object of the statute states of providing a speedy and hassle free remedy to the victims which is devoid of procedural complexities and rigors of courts and tribunals. The Act of 2013 states that the ICC is not bound by technical procedures but is only to ensure natural justice to parties and thus ICC is a free to devise its procedure depending on peculiar circumstances of the case before it while ensuring natural justice.”

The tribunal placed reliance on the judgment passed by the Hon’ble High Court of Bombay in Vidya Akhave v. Union of India & Ors.2 wherein the Court declined to interfere with an order of punishment passed by the Internal Complaints committee in relation to a sexual harassment complaint, unless the order is shockingly disproportionate.

Similar contentions were placed by the Tribunal in another case of X. v. ICC, Standard Chartered Bank3 , wherein the Tribunal observed that the IC is not bound by the technical procedures but is only to ensure natural justice to parties and thus IC is free to devise its procedure depending on peculiar circumstances of the case before it while ensuring natural justice.

Cross-Examination and the Principles of Natural Justice

Right to cross-examination forms an essential part of any judicial proceeding, however, when it comes to the corporate world, inquiries in the form of disciplinary proceedings form an integral part of investigation process. Apart from the disciplinary proceedings, the IC under the POSH Act has been empowered to conduct inquiry in the manner as prescribed under the POSH Act and the Rules which, however, does not specify the right to cross-examine.

This particular issue has been brought before the courts a number of times.

The question before the Hon’ble High Court of Kerala in L.S. Sibu v. Air India Limited and Ors.,4 was that whether not giving an opportunity to cross-examine the Complainant and to controvert the fact finding of the IC would vitiate the inquiry and violate the principles of natural justice. The Court in para 17 of the Judgment noted that in cases of sexual harassment the privacy and secrecy of the victim is to be protected and verbal cross-examination is not the sole criteria to controvert or contradict any statement given by the aggrieved before any authority.

It is thus for the committee to verify and analyze the capability of the aggrieved to depose before them fearlessly without intimidation. If the Committee is of the view that the aggrieved is feeble and cannot withstand the cross-examination, the Committee may adopt other measures to ensure that the witness statement is contradicted or corrected by the delinquent in another manner.

The court in the present case (Supra) created broader boundaries as to ascertain the criteria to ensure that the principles of natural justice are followed in cases of sexual harassment. The court reminded the IC that a fair opportunity should be given to the delinquent in such a manner the IC think fit to consider. There is no easy precise rule defining fair opportunity.

In yet another case, Ashok Kumar v. University of Delhi and Ors.,5 the Delhi High Court after relying on the L.S. Sibu v. Air India Limited and Ors, laid down the procedure to be followed by the IC while conducting an inquiry under the POSH Act. The court directed the IC to proceed with the cross-examination of the witness of the complainant in questionnaire form, ensuring that the respondent or the complainant are not present at the time of the cross-examination.


Given the judicial precedents, IC under the POSH Act must conduct an inquiry in accordance with the principles of natural justice since in sexual harassment cases the probability of witnesses getting influenced and the fear of retaliation are high. Therefore, keeping that into consideration, it is for the IC to decide what recourse to take depending on the facts and circumstances of any particular case.

In alignment with the aforementioned judgments, it must also be noted that the IC is a fact-finding body that is established with the primary objective to provide speedy Redressal to the victim of sexual harassment and the procedure that must be adopted by the IC should be devoid of any complexities and procedural technicalities.

1 RCA DJ No. 5/23
2 Writ Petition No. 796/2015
3 RCA DJ No. 2/22
4 WP(C)No. 4001 of 2016 (A)
5 WP(C) No. 7371/2016

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