These are the words which have been often dolled upon and always used in the prayer for relief in every plaint. The essence, meaning and ambit of these four words enhance the discretionary power of the court to another level. They are often repeated but it is not often realized what sense of power these words provide. Before getting into its whole genesis we also have to understand from where it originated and what is the real meaning provided by it.
I do not know in what sense its should be taken but India has been a country which has proved to be one of the most flexible country in accepting new cultures and laws, be it Islamic Laws after the invasion by Arabs or English Laws during British period. This has been a very major reason in the development and acceptance of this principle across our legal system which is still prevalent. The word equity allows courts to use their discretion and award justice in accordance with natural law. In practice modern equity is sometimes limited by substantive and procedural rules, but this is not always the case. This principle mainly developed after two or three hundred years the origination of common laws and was developed to provide remedy in cases where damages where unsuitable remedy and fairness was needed to be introduced in the legal system. It basically started from England and slowly got its hold in all Commonwealth countries. Its basic meaning is eveness, fairness, justice and is used synonymously for natural justice. It is used as in contrast to strict rules of law. It can be said as in true sense of application of what seems natural just and right instead of application of strict rules leading to circumstances which may be unfair. This was introduced in India in the year 1781 in the presidency of Bengal which enabled the courts to use their discretion power above the rule of Hindu or Mohammedan Law so as to provide fair justice as demanded by the situation. Later this was not predicted that it would lead to confusion and chaos in legal system that time because every judge used the discretionary power every time up to his standards and thinking.
Varden Seth Ram v. Luckpathy: In this case the Privy Council pointed out that the company's court didn't have any prescribed law to which their decisions was to confirm so they were directed to follow the basis of justice and good conscience.
Sheo Ratan Singh v. Karan Singh where even the English Laws were not followed as it was held to be against doctrine of justice and good conscience.
Secretary of State v. Rukminibai: It was held that any Indian Court which seeks to apply common law should know its extent keeping in mind the extent of justice, equity and good conscience.
One of the other important judgments in this respect can be Menka Gandhi v. Union of India where principle of natural justice was recognized and applied and also in the case of TVS Finance and Service Ltd. v. H. Shiva Kumar where the judgment was also based on natural justice.
The main essence which can be drawn form this is that no person is left without justice. Justice is the end which is desired hence should be delivered by sometimes more than what law prescribes so that there is no one who feels oppressed with the feel of justice being undelivered. This says it all: If law is the means then justice is the end. There are some interesting views of Justice Iyer on this respect: Natural justice is virtue of virtues and not merely a sense of righteousness or wrong. It has being in existence since humanity came about in existence and are supposed to remain in existence until humanity derives its existence because they enthrall their existence not from pen and paper but from humanity psyche in its purest form. Lord Atkinson once said in this respect: Might is Right. Law is might, justice id right but justice which is natural is mightier than might.
Justice Iyer is a champion in this respect by implanting his views in his judgments too and the case of BANGALORE WATER SUPPLY & SEWAGE BOARD ETC. v. RAJAPPA & OTHERS is one such example where he said to protect the oppressed from being oppressed is what law is all about, this is what natural justice calls for and thus gave a new definition for the word 'industry'. Even if provision in form of law is to be checked then Section 151 of Civil Procedure Code is an example in this respect.
The main point that is to be noticed is that this principle was not based on any exact law hence lead to lot of judgments opposed and contradictory to each other. The often use of words "public policy", "good faith", "fairness" etc. in this respect itself express the whole meaning but some good judgments have been delivered in this respect too. The main conclusion which we can take from this respect is that no doubt these principles do help in controlling atrocities and injustice in various aspects where law is not codified properly, or be it in a just way, but it should also be seen that it enables the judges and gives them that extra power in addition to what they already have to decide the fate of parties which can sometimes be dangerous or biased. Therefore it is up to us for which side of coin we want to see or which shade in this respect we want to ignore.