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Procedural Fairness (Natural Justice)
Procedural fairness is also known as ‘Natural Justice’. Both terms are used interchangeably. It requires a procedurally fair hearing and an unbiased decision being made. All parties to a complaint (complainant and respondent) must be afforded natural justice.
So what does this mean in practice?
It means that if you breach a University policy, or, do not meet the terms or conditions of an Agreement you have with the University, or in a number of other situations, you must be treated fairly and justly.
Natural Justice requires the right to be heard, the right to be treated without bias, and a decision being based on relevant evidence.
The right to be heard
A person must be given a reasonable opportunity to present information before a decision is reached that might adversely affect them. This might include the following elements:
- forewarning you of a change that may affect you adversely;
- providing reasonable notice of the case to be met and a reasonable time to prepare
- providing you with sufficient information about the matter to be decided so that you have an opportunity to respond;
- providing you with an adequate opportunity to present your story or case to the authority empowered to make the decision;
- providing you with the opportunity to correct or contradict any statement prejudicial to your case; and
- providing you with the opportunity to appeal the decision that has been made.
The right to be treated without bias
This means that when the University is assessing an application from you, or assessing your academic performance, or investigating an allegation which has been made against you, or evaluating and weighing up evidence, the decision-maker maker must act, and be seen to act, impartially and without bias.
The decision-maker, whether an individual or a member of the decision-making authority (for example a Committee), should not:
- have a close personal or family relationship with any parties who have an interest in the outcome;
- have a direct or indirect financial or other interest in the outcome of the decision
- be a person with a closed mind or pre-conceived ideas about the outcome.
- There are a number of safeguards to ensure impartiality
- Potential conflicts of interest and bias should be declared prior to any deliberation on a decision
If, however, a decision-maker becomes aware of some fact or previous judgement that may cause a party to perceive a bias, this should be declared to all interested parties. A decision must then be made by an appropriate person to determine whether any apparent bias exists, and whether it is sufficiently able to be managed, or whether a new decision-maker needs to be appointed.
An applicant must not be treated unfavourably compared to others—the criteria on which a decision is to be based should be published or made available to interested parties beforehand, and the same criteria must be applied across the board.
It is insufficient to declare a decision-maker may have a bias, or just because you ‘think’ the decision-maker might make an adverse decision against you. If you believe that a decision-maker may have a pre-conceived view which will affect his/her impartiality, it is your responsibility to raise this in your appeal and explain ( with evidence) why you hold this view.
A decision must be based on relevant evidence.
This means that the findings of an investigation, or the assessment of an application, needs to be based on evidence which is persuasive, sufficient to answer the critical questions, and reliable. Mere suspicion about something is not an acceptable foundation for a decision.
A decision-maker, whether an individual or a member of a decision-making authority (for example a Committee), should only take into consideration information that is relevant to the decision to be made, and all irrelevant information should be disregarded.