The Latin maxim audi alteram partem, one of the most cherished and sacrosanct principles of law, has evolved from three simple Latin words to mean that no person shall be condemned, punished or have any property or legal right compromised by a court of law without having heard that person.
In many jurisdictions, the principle has ben enshrined by a series of seminal cases or simply written into the constitution of the state. The following experience reflects the common law of the United Kingdom
"Nineteenth and early twentieth century decisions established that the right to be heard (audi alteram partem) rule was to govern the conduct of arbitrators, of professional bodies and voluntary associations in the exercise of their disciplinary functions, and indeed of every tribunal or body of persons invested with authority to adjudicate upon matters involving civil consequences to individuals."
In an ancient case (1722), The King v Chancellor, University of Cambridge, Justice Eyre remarked:
"The laws of God and man both have given the party an opportunity to make his defence, if he has any.... Even God himself did not pass sentence upon Adam before he was called upon to make his defence."
Justice Bayley wrote, in Chapel v Child:
"I know of no case in which you are to have a judicial proceeding, by which a man is to be deprived of any part of his property, without having an opportunity of being heard."
A principle of natural justice which prohibits a judicial decision which impacts upon individual rights without giving all parties in the dispute a right to be heard.
Habeas corpus was an early expression of the audi alteram partem principle.
In more recent years, it has been extended to include the right to receive notice of a hearing and to be given an opportunity to be represented or heard at that hearing.
The expression received this endorsement from the US Supreme Court (Caritativo):
"Audi alteram partem - hear the other side! - a demand made insistently through the centuries, is now a command, spoken with the voice of the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, against state governments, and every branch of them - executive, legislative, and judicial - whenever any individual, however lowly and unfortunate, asserts a legal claim.
"It is beside the point that the claim may turn out not to be meritorious. It is beside the point that delay in the enforcement of the law may be entailed ...
"The right to be heard somehow by someone before a claim is denied, particularly if life hangs in the balance, is far greater in importance to society, in the light of the said history of its denial, than inconvenience in the execution of the law. If this is true when mere property interests are at stake ... how much more so when the difference is between life and death?"
- Caritativo v People of State of California 357 US 549 (1958)
- Chapel v Child 2 Cr. & J. 579 (1832)
- Legal Definition of Natural Justice
- NOTE 1: Woolf, Rt. Hon., and others, De Smith's Judicial Review, 6th Ed. (London: Sweet & Maxwell, 2007), page 324-325
- The King v Chancellor of Cambridge University, 1 Str. 557, at page 567