Natural justice and its application to multi-tiered proceedings

AuthorCalvin A. Eversley
PositionLL.M. (Harvard), LL.B. (Hons), LEG., D.P.A/ (Distinction)
Some Perspectives on the Guyana Court of Appeal's
in the
the Judicial
Privy Council's
in the Crane case.
The principles of natural justice are of ancient and highly venerable vintage. As
alluded to by Fortescue J in R. v University of Cambridge,1 these principles of
fundamental justice have their origin in no less a person than God Himself in the
first trial of man ever held.2 Later, we see that God again applies the principles of
natural justice to the second recorded trial in the history of mankind, namely, the
trial of Cain for the murder of his brother, Abel.3
Given such an eminently auspicious and highly authoritative foundation, no
one today, least of all this writer, would seriously contend that any legally
unwarranted or unsupportable abridgement or non-application of its prerequisites
would not amount to an affront to basic and universal concepts of decency and
It is manifestly clear, however, from even a casual perusal of the pertinent case
law, that the issue regarding the application of natural justice principles to the
preliminary stage of a multi-tiered proceeding or process, where the affected party
Barnwell v. A.G. of Guyana et al., and Appeal No.84 of 1991.
Rees v. Crane [1994] 2 W.L.R. 476.
LL.M. (Harvard), LL.B. (Hons), LEG., D.P.A/ (Distinction); Senior Lecturer in Law and
Head, Department of Law, University of Guyana; Former Assistant Attorney-General,
USVI Department of Justice; Former Magistrate, Guyana.
1 (1723) 93 E.R.698.
2 The Holy Bible, Authorised King James Version, Genesis Chapter 3, verses 9-19.
3 Ibid., Genesis Chapter 4, verses 9-16.
is entitled to a full hearing at some later stage, is a much more complicated one
than is the case with a single-stage proceeding.
The basis of this complication is founded firstly on the fact that the affected
party has to overcome the argument, and the legal authorities which undergird this
argument, that he would be afforded his full rights to natural justice at a later non-
preliminary stage of the proceedings and, therefore, would not be seriously
prejudiced if such rights were not afforded at the preliminary stage. Another basis
for this complication is the recognition that the proponents of the view opposed to
affording natural justice rights at the preliminary stage of
multi-tiered proceeding
would, correspondingly, have to show that their case falls within the ambit of the
authorities which establish the general practice in support of their position.
In the Barnwell case, as will be seen later, the Guyana Court of Appeal, as a
whole, did not adequately discuss and/or apply the legal principles applicable to the
complicating factors mentioned earlier in this article. On the other hand, the
Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (hereinafter referred to as the "Privy
Council") in the Crane case certainly treated the complicating factors
aforementioned in a sufficiently satisfactory manner. For instance, Lord Slynn of
Hadley, who delivered the judgment of the Privy Council, after endorsing the
general practice gleaned from the cases and outlined by Professor de Smith,4 clearly
distinguished the Crane case as falling outside the ambit of the general practice
because the appellants could not "rely on urgency or administrative necessity to
justify not telling the respondent what was being complained of".5 It is interesting
to note that, although Kennard J. A., as he then was, in the Barnwell case,6 referred
to the fact that "the nature of the charge and the exigencies of the moment might
perhaps call for immediate action" in discussing the case of Birrs v. Secretary of
Justice, 7 yet there is no intimation that he or any of the other Justices of Appeal
ever applied the "urgency or administrative necessity" test to that case.
Therefore, as it presently stands in terms of the Barnwell case, one important
question that remains unanswered is whether any of the learned Justices of Appeal
held any duly considered view as to whether the seriousness and circumstances of
the allegation against Barnwell, coupled with the exigencies of ensuring that the
public interest elements relating to protecting the integrity of the judiciary and the
interests of the public were appropriately and timely served, justified his immediate
4 De Smith,
Review of Administrative Action (4th edn. 1980), p.199.
5 Rees v. Crane, supra, at 488.
6 Per Kennard JA in the Barnwell case, supra, at 9.
7 [1984] 1NZLR 513.

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