1. The appeal is directed against an order of Kailasam, J., who declined to interfere 'with an award of the Presiding Officer, Labour Court, Madurai.
2. Two workmen of the appellant, after a domestic enquiry on a charge framed against them, were dismissed from service, and the dispute relating to it between the dismissed workmen and the Management was the subject-matter of a reference to the Presiding officer. He mentioned three grounds for characterising the domestic enquiry as biased and, therefore, vitiated by non-observance of the principles of natural justice. The first ground was that before framing the charge, the explanation of the delinquent workmen ought to have, been asked for Kailasam, J., rightly considered that this was not a proper ground. The third ground also is not of any substance. It was that during the examination of the defence, one more witness for the prosecution was interposed. We have examined this matter but find that there was no prejudice and there was no violation of the principles of natural justice either.
3. The second ground was based on the fact that the Enquiry officer cross-examined some of the defence witnesses and particularly one Hamid, and even put some leading questions. The Labour Court, dealing with this matter stated-
'The Enquiry officer himself questioned the witnesses and what is much more strange to note is that he went beyond his scope to cross-examine the witnesses of the workmen. This is evident from the cross-examination of the witnesses, Sri P. K. Hamid, Sri Pasupathi, Sri Yusuf and Murugan. It is clear that the Enquiry officer himself assumed the role of a cross-examiner which is not permissible. Therefore, the enquiry has to be characterised as biased and cannot be said to be either independent or fair. The entire enquiry proceedings are vitiated by non-observance of the principles of natural justice.' Kailasam, J. considered that the Enquiry officer would appear to have exceeded his limits by cross-examining and putting some leading questions and assumed the role of a prosecutor.
4. We are unable to sustain the second ground of the Labour Court. In a domes-tic enquiry, it should not be lost sight of that the enquiry officer is often not instructed in the law and has no training in the method of conducting an enquiry. It is possible that when he is not assisted by an officer in prosecution or by counsel prosecuting, he may put questions which may be in the nature of a cross-examination. Some of the questions in cross-examination may appear to be leading ones even. These features by themselves do not conclude the issue whether the principles of natural justice have been violated. Natural justice is not merely a question of form but one of substance. The governing test, in our opinion, will be whether the examination, cross-examination or putting of leading questions by the enquiry officer are such as would indicate that he is not fair or that he is biased, in the sense he not merely acted as an enquiry officer but went beyond his limits as such and played the role of a prosecutor. Having broadly indicated the principles, its application will depend on the facts of each case.
5. For instance, in Firestone Tyre and Rubber Co. v. Their Workmen, : (1967)IILLJ714SC , the witnesses were subjected to cross-examination by the enquiry officer and some of the questions appeared to be leading. The contention that this showed that the enquiry officer had assumed the role of a prosecutor did not find favour. Hidaya-tullah, J. (as he then was) who spoke for the Court, observed-
'No doubt, some of the questions ap-pear to be leading, but they were respecting the matter of record and too much legalism cannot be expected from a domestic enquiry of this character.' It was held that the principles of natural justice were not violated. A similar point was dealt with by the Supreme Court in Workmen in B. & C. Mills v. B. & C. Mills, : (1970)ILLJ26SC . Repelling the criticism that the enquiry officer had acted both as a prosecutor and a judge, it was observed:
'No doubt, there was no officer separately conducting the prosecution on the side of the management; but what the Labour officer had done, as evidence by Ex. M. 9 was to put questions to the witnesses and elicit answers and allow the worker to cross-examine those witnesses. Similarly, he has also taken the statements of the worker and asked for clarification from him wherever necessary. Therefore, the enquiry proceedings, as held by the Labour Court, have been completely fair and impartial'. The question in each case will, therefore, be whether having regard to the questions put and the cross-examination made by the enquiry officer, it can reasonably be Concluded that he was unfair or partial In conducting the enquiry. The conclusion of unfairness or partiality cannot be jumped at merely on finding that the enquiry officer himself questioned the witnesses or cross-examined them. The Labour Court had, therefore, misconceived the position and proceeded on the basis that because the enquiry officer had questioned the witnesses and also cross-examined, the enquiry was biased and could not be treated as independent or fair. That view of the Labour Court cannot be said to be correct,
6. Mr. Dolia, for the second respondent, laid a good deal of stress on the facts that the enquiry officer stated that in respect of the statement made by P. K. Hamid that no enquiry was held by the Foreman, Mr. Thatham, he wished to bring in Mr. Thatham to give evidence. Certain instances of cross-examination made by the enquiry officer have been particularly pointed out by counsel. But having given our best attention to the matter, we are not persuaded that the enquiry officer conducted himself unfairly or was partial. There was no violation of the principles of natural justice in this respect.
7. The order of the Labour Court is quashed and the appeal is allowed, but with no costs.