Natural Justice: What is it?
The terms ‘natural justice’ and ‘procedural fairness’ are used interchangeably; in order to arrive at a just and defensible conclusion, an investigatory body (i.e. a tribunal) must give an individual:
1) an opportunity to show why adverse action should not be taken; and
2) a decision-maker whose mind is open to persuasion, or free from bias.
The role of a tribunal or judiciary
A tribunal or judiciary’s main function is to decide on penalties for players who break the rules of the organisation. They can issue sanctions such as fines or suspensions to players who do not follow the rules.
Although the judiciary/tribunal can have many features of a court of law, it is not a court of law and its decisions only apply to members of the club or sport. Their decisions are not legally enforceable but players must accept their decisions to continue playing, and they must remain un-biased throughout in the same way as a court.
A denial of nature justice – what is the result?
A denial of natural justice is an error of law that may deprive a tribunal of jurisdiction and render its decision void. While the laws of natural justice may not be as strict for sporting tribunals and judiciaries as in courts, the more onerous a penalty that could be imposed may give rise to greater care being taken by a tribunal. In general, representations from both sides must be heard and all the evidence against the accused should be on the table or known to the accused.
It is not good enough to be given only general information about the charges that have been laid – details of the charge, the evidence and the relevant rule(s) should be given in order to ensure a fair hearing.
What to do if you receive an adverse decision or you believe you have been deprived of natural justice?
If a player or club disagrees with a decision there is often an appeals process involving alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and ultimately international sports bodies such as the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Where an aggrieved person or entity believes they have not been afforded a proper hearing, they may have a right to appeal the adverse decision. However, in the case of a potentially biased decision-maker having made the decision, there needs to be an actual bias shown before a decision can be attacked. A mere suspected bias is not enough.
Appeals process in sport
Compensation for tribunal decisions that deny natural justice
In Rose v Boxing NSW Inc. & Anor  NSWSC 20 the expulsion of a boxing referee was found to involve a breach of natural justice; damages were awarded to the referee on the basis of the breach of the contract between the individual as a member of the organisation and the organisation itself. The court awarded $4,000 to the non-professional referee against the organisation for his ‘vexation and disappointment’ at being excluded from referring for two and a half years.
Organisations and tribunals should tread carefully in ensuring hearings are conducted in a just and un-biased manner, and should ensure procedural fairness throughout. The consequences for not providing an appropriate forum may ultimately result in a court awarding damages for missing these fundamental steps, which can be so easily followed.
Please contact us if your organisation requires advice in relation to running a tribunal to ensure that it is procedurally fair, just and un-biased manner. We can be reached on (03) 9642 0435 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nothing in this article should be relied on as legal advice. The contents of this article should be regarded as information only, and for specific legal matters, independent advice should always be sought. Please contact Paul Horvath on email@example.com or phone (03) 9642 0435 to discuss any matter or to arrange an appointment.