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This article is written by Harmanjot Kaur Kang and the article is edited by Khushi Sharma (Trainee Associate, Blog iPleaders).

Administrative tribunals

It is the name given to the ‘administrative exercise of the judicial functions. It is the term synonymously used with the administrative sections and decision making. It is the name given to various ways of deciding the dispute outside the ordinary courts. It is constitutional, though it is a negation of the principle of separation of powers. It is the participation or the involvement of the executive of the government (administrative authorities) in the judicial functions. Through the instrumentality of the administrative adjudication, administrative agencies can pass the authoritative and appealable decisions. This adjudicatory function is expired in a variety of ways. However, the most popular mode of adjudication is through tribunals.

Generally, a tribunal is any ‘person’ or ‘institution’. Authority to judge, adjudicate and determine claims or disputes whether or not have tribunals n it. Tribunals can be defined as ‘judgement seats’ or ‘court of justice’ or ‘board or committee’ formed to adjudicate on the claim of a particular kind. Tribunal is not originally a part of the constitution but they were introduced by the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976. Administrative tribunals are quasi-judicial authorities that are established under an Act of the Parliament or of State Regulations which is changed with the duty to discharge, adjudicatory functions. So, they are bodies other than courts that perform the adjudicatory functions. 

How were tribunals designated under Indian Law?

By the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976 a new part XIV (14-A) was included in the constitution and this part is entitled to as ‘Tribunals’ and consists of two articles 323A and 323B. Article 323A empowers for the establishment of the Administrative Tribunal and following the Articles of the Indian Constitution, the Parliament has passed Administrative Tribunal Act, 1985. 

This Act empowers the Central Government to establish one central ‘Administrative Tribunal’ (CAT) and the ‘State Administrative Tribunal’. Article 323B deals with the Tribunals of the other matters. 

Types of the tribunals as per the Administrative Tribunal Act, 1985

Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT)

It has the jurisdiction to deal with the service matters about the employees of Central Government, any Union Territory, Local Government or any other Central Government, corporate-owned or controlled by the Central Government. 

State Administrative Tribunals (SAT)

These tribunals can be established by the Central Government and the Parliament. Similarly, we see the State Legislature under Article 323 B for various matters like levy, assessment, collection and enforcement of any tax matters connected with the land reforms covered under Article 31 A.

Joint Administrative Tribunals (JAT)

This can be established on the request of two or more states collectively, which exercise administrative control over two or more states. For Instance, there are various tribunals such as:

Armed Force Tribunal (AFT)

Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT)

National Green Tribunal (NGT)

Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT)

Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT)

Water Dispute Tribunal

Characteristics of administrative tribunals

They are of statutory origin and so must be created by a statute or by the Parliament or State Legislation. They are quasi-judicial in nature. This means they have features of a court but not all. The administrative Tribunal is bound to act judicially and follow the principles of Natural Justice. We see various procedural matters, i.e., administrative tribunals have the powers related to the summoning of the witness, administering the oath, to compel production of the documents.

It is not bound to the strict rules of the evidence law and the procedure prescribed by the civil procedure code. They are independent and are not subject to any administrative interference in the discharge of their judicial functions and quasi-judicial functions. The writ of certiorari and prohibition are available against the decisions of the administrative tribunals. It has some toppings of the court and is required to act openly, fairly and impartially. 

Necessity and reasons for the growth of administrative tribunals

The main purpose of the introduction of this Act was:

  • To relieve the congestion in the courts
  • To lower the burden of the courts
  • To provide for speedy disposal of the dispute relating to the service matters
  • To relieve congestion in courts
  • To lower the burden of cases in the courts
  • To provide for speedy disposal of the dispute relating to service mandate

Necessity

  • Tribunals are less expensive and procedures are not complex and formalistic as in courts.
  • Tribunals are cheaper and are easily accessible to the affected person. For instance, sales tax, tribunals, land appellate tribunals and labour tribunals etc. 
  • Tribunals decide all the questions subjectively on a departmental policy basis. Courts decide objectively.
  • They have experts in their panel who can dispose of the technical problems effectively or they possess technical knowledge in a particular field like labour, revenue, excise, wages etc. 
  • Tribunals Act rapidly with the discretionary powers basing their decisions on the departmental policy and other factors whereas the ordinary courts can follow the procedure and the Evidence Act and hence take much time.

Application of the Act

Section 2 of the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985, Act applies to all central government employees. 

Exceptions

  • The members of the naval, military and air force person or any other forces of the Union. 
  • Any officer or servant of Supreme Court or High Courts.
  • Any person appointed to as the secretary staff of either Houses of the Parliament.

Composition of tribunals and the bench

Section 4 defines the tribunal to have the following organs:

Chairman: There would be a chairman who would be administrating the whole matters.

Vice-Chairman: This would be the one who would be assisting the chairman.

Judicial Minister: This would be having the qualifications similar to the judicial officer.

Technical Expert: This would be looking into the areas related to the respective technical area. 

Administrative Members: This would help in the governance system.

Every bench must include at least one judicial and administrative member. 

Term of office

Section 8 talks about such provisions. The person can work for a period of five years. However, we see that the Chairman would retire at the age of 65 years. Similarly, other members would retire at the age of 62 years of age.

Advantages of administrative tribunals

  • They offer flexibility when compared to ordinary courts.
  • They are cheaper and offer speedy justice.
  • The procedure followed by the Tribunals is the simplest and is easy to understand. 
  • They offer relief to the ordinary courts that are already over-burdened courts with various suits. 
  • They have their experts in the panel who specialise in a particular area like labour law, wages etc.
  • They provide sufficient administrative acts and fair justice to all. 

Limitations of administrative tribunals

  • They consist of members and heads that may not possess any background in law.
  • As they do not rely on the uniform precedence and hence may lead to arbitrary and inconsistent decisions.

Disadvantages of administrative tribunals

  • They may go against the spirit of the Rule of Law. The Rule of Law ensures that there is arbitrary power. It is not exercised by the institutions or the individuals.
  • It is the principle that everybody is subject to and accountable to laws, which are in favour of them. 
  • They don’t have a uniform code of procedure whereas ordinary courts do not have a uniform code. 
  • Most judges do not enjoy the same independence as enjoyed by the judges and the executives of the courts.
  • The administrative tribunals are handled by the individuals like the administrators and technical heads who may have no experience or training in judicial proceedings. 
  • They hold summary trials and do not follow any procedure, so it is not possible to predict the course of future decisions. 

Challenges faced by administrative tribunals

  • The functions of the administrative tribunals are not autonomous per se, as they are dependent on the executive for the aspect of funding and appointment.
  • The administrative tribunals lack the adequate infrastructure to function efficiently.
  • The staff requirements of the tribunals are still unknown.
  • In the Chandra Kumar case, the Supreme Court held that the appeal of the tribunal come under the jurisdiction of the court. This defeats the whole purpose of reducing the burden of the judiciary. 
  • The tribunals are chaired by the retired judges who are appointed by the government. So, due to this reason, the present judge may show favouritism towards certain matters so that they may be appointed as a part of the tribunal during the post-retirement. 

Differences between courts and tribunals

  • The courts are a part of the traditional judicial system. However, we see that tribunals are an agency created by a statute and conferred with judicial powers.
  • It is vested with the general jurisdiction over all the matters. However, the tribunals deal with the service matters and are vested with limited jurisdiction to decide a particular issue.
  • Courts are bound by the rules of the Evidence Act and Code of Civil Procedure. However, tribunals are not bound by the rules of the Evidence Act and the Code of Civil Procedure unless such an organisation is important on the tribunals by the statute which created it.
  • The Courts have a presiding officer of the court of law who is trained in law or is an expert in the field of law. However, in the case of a tribunal, the presiding officer is a member of the tribunal and may not be trained in the field of law. He may be an expert in the field of administrative matters.
  • The courts look into the decisions of the courts in an objective nature which is primarily based on the evidence and the material produced before the court. The tribunals’ decision may be subjective rather than objective which may be decided to take into account the departmental policy. 
  • The courts are bound by the precedents, the principle of Res Judicata and the Natural Justice. Tribunals are not bound to follow the precedents of the judicial decisions but the principle of Natural Justice must be followed. 
  • Courts can decide on the validity of the legislation. On the other hand, the tribunals cannot decide the validity of the legislation. 
  • The courts do not follow the investigatory or the inquisitory function. It rather decides the case based on the facts. On the other hand, tribunals perform the investigatory function as well as the quasi-judicial function.
  • The courts are more formal in nature. Therefore, they are slow in the execution of their rigid procedure. On the other hand, the tribunals are less formal. Additionally, they are less expensive and are faster to resolve disputes.
  • Courts judges are impartial. They act as arbitrators and are not the party to the dispute. On the other hand, the tribunal can be a party to the dispute.
  • The decision of the court will be called a judgement, decree and conviction or acquittal, depending on the facts and circumstances of the case. On the other hand, the decision of a tribunal will be called ‘award’.
  • The judges of a court would act independently. They act as the independent executive of their decision. However, in the case of tribunals, the terms and conditions of the service of the administrative tribunal would be in the hands of the members of the tribunal.

However, a major drawback lies here that since there is no formal procedure prescribed here there can be arbitrariness. However, on the other side of the coin, we see that there is the good side which shows that even an application with a simple format can be treated as a petition. 

Since there is a system of ‘welfare state’ in India and the people are concerned about getting their rights to be duly acknowledged, we see that the idea of administrative tribunals are good as the courts are very overburdened these days. We can be thankful to tribunals for their technical expertise in the field and speedy delivery of justice which overweighs its cons.

Conclusion

From the above discussion, we see that though administrative law is still in its infancy stage. However, with time, we see that there are various instances where there are instances of how the evolving decisions have helped in the formation of a strong judicial system in our country. Also, we see specialised systems like that of the ‘National Green Tribunal’ are there. Thus, we see that there is a liberal overview of the system of governance and is more people-centric in nature. 


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