Supreme Court rules that tribunals cannot direct government to frame policy
Polity & Governance
31st Dec, 2023
Recently, the Supreme Court (SC) has clarified that tribunals functioning under the strict parameters of their governing legislations cannot direct the government to make policy.
About the Judgment:
- The top court was deciding on whether the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) could have directed the government to make a policy to fill up the post of Judge Advocate General (Air).
- AFT is vested with the powers of a civil court and the Tribunal did not have the powers of the Supreme Court or the High Courts.
What are Tribunals?
- A tribunal is a quasi-judicial institution that deals with the resolution of disputes pertaining to administration, taxation, environment, securities, etc.
- Tribunals in India are adjudicatory bodies that serve as an alternative to the traditional court system.
- Tribunals were established to provide swift, cost-effective, and decentralized resolution of disputes across various issues.
- It performs a number of functions like adjudicating disputes, determining rights between contesting parties, making an administrative decision, reviewing an existing administrative decision, and so forth.
Why they are formed?
Some of the salient features of tribunals in India are;
- Principles of natural justice: Tribunals in India follow the principle of natural justice, which requires that all parties to a legal proceeding be given a fair and impartial hearing and that no person should be a judge in their own cause.
- Not bound by Civil Procedure Code (CPC): Unlike traditional courts, they are not bound by the strict rules of procedure and evidence set out in the CPC.
- Subject expertise: A significant part of tribunals is comprised of members who have specialized expertise in the subject matter over which they have jurisdiction.
- Quasi-judicial powers: Tribunals can hear evidence, examine witnesses, make findings of fact, apply the law to the facts, and make binding decisions.
- Appellate authority: The decisions of tribunals can be appealed to a higher court. The decision of tribunals in the first instance can be appealed to the appellate authority and, later, to the High Courts and/or Supreme Court.
- Time-bound resolution: The adjudicatory process in tribunals is usually faster than the traditional court system, which helps resolve disputes more quickly and efficiently.
Constitutional and legal provisions pertaining to Tribunals in India:
- The original Constitution did not contain provisions with respect to tribunals. The 42nd Amendment Act of 1976 added a new Part XIV-Ato the Constitution. This part is titled ‘Tribunals’ and consists of only two Articles–
- Article 323Adealing with administrative tribunals and
- Article 323Bdealing with tribunals for other matters.
Empowers the Parliament to provide for the establishment of administrative tribunals for the adjudication of disputes relating to recruitment and conditions of service of persons appointed to public services of the Centre, the states, local bodies, public corporations, and other public authorities.
Empowers the Parliament and state legislatures to set up tribunals for various matters like Industrial and labour, Foreign exchange, import and export, Land reforms, Food, The ceiling on urban property, Elections to Parliament and state legislatures, Rent and tenancy rights, etc.
Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985
In relation to Article 323 A, The Parliament enacted the Administrative Tribunals Act in 1985, which empowers the Central government to establish the Central Administrative Tribunal and state-level administrative tribunals. This Act opened a new chapter in the sphere of providing speedy and inexpensive justice to the aggrieved public servants.
New rules for tribunals passed in 2020:
- The 'Tribunal, Appellate Tribunal, and other Authorities (Qualifications, Experience and other Conditions of Service of Members) Rules, 2020'were framed by the Ministry of Finance in exercising powers under Section 184 of the Finance Act 2017.
- These rules replace the 2017 Rules, which were struck down by the Supreme Court, which directed the government to re-formulate the rules in conformity with the principles delineated by the court.
- Provisions of the New Rules:
- These apply to 19 Tribunals, including Central Administrative Tribunals, Income Tax Appellate Tribunal, Customs, Excise, Service Tax Appellate Tribunals, etc.
- Foreigners Tribunals are not covered.
- Appointment: Appointments to the above Tribunals will be made by Central Government on the recommendations of the"Search cum Selection Committee" composed of
- The Chief Justice of India (CJI) or a judge nominated by the CJI
- President/chairperson of the concerned tribunal
- Two government secretaries from the concerned ministry/department.
- Removal: The search Cum Selection Committee has the power to recommend the removal of a member and also to conduct inquiries into allegations of misconduct by a member.
- Qualifications for tribunal members:Only persons having judicial or legal experience are eligible for appointment.
- Term:Rules also provide a fixed term of four years to the Tribunal members.
- Independence:The condition in the 2017 Rules (which were set aside by Court) that the members will be eligible for re-appointment has also been dropped in the 2020 Rules.
What are the restrictions for Tribunals in India?
Jurisdiction of Tribunals:
- Specialized Areas: Tribunals typically have jurisdiction over specific areas of law, such as employment, tax, environment, or administrative law.
- Statutory Grant: Their authority is derived from statutes that establish them; outlining the types of cases they can hear and decide.
- Limited Appellate Jurisdiction: Some tribunals have limited appellate jurisdiction, reviewing decisions made by lower-level tribunals or administrative bodies.
Restrictions on Tribunals:
- Limited Jurisdiction: Tribunals have jurisdiction within their specified areas and cannot exceed their statutory authority.
- Procedural Constraints: They must adhere to procedural rules and guidelines outlined in the governing statute.
- Appeal Mechanism: Decisions of tribunals may be subject to appeal, ensuring a check on potential errors and maintaining fairness.