tribunalisation
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This article has been written by Sharanya Ghosh, from Symbiosis Law School, Noida. It aims to explore the origin, merits and critique revolving around the administrative tribunals established in India.

Introduction

The Indian judicial system is one where the judicial powers have been vested in the courts. However, due to the increasing number of cases, especially since several of them were related to matters of administration, it would not have been possible for courts to bear the brunt of the justice system alone. Tribunalisation was seen as a solution to these issues and has become an important part of our justice system today. This article aims to identify the meaning of tribunalisation, its origin in India, and its merits and defects. It also identifies possible reforms that the system of tribunalisation may adopt for further improvement. 

Tribunalisation

What is a tribunal?

Neither the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 nor any other legislation has defined what a tribunal essentially means. However, in Durga Shankar Mehta vs Thakur Raghuraj Singh, the Supreme Court said that tribunals are not the same as courts but include all the adjudicating bodies within their jurisdiction since they have been appointed by the State and have been invested with judicial power. They are also distinct from strictly administrative or executive functions. 

In other words, tribunals have judicial power and judicial duties. They are adjudicating bodies and are often described as quasi-judicial institutions. These essentially deal with administrative issues or other issues such as those revolving around matters of taxation or labour.

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Difference between tribunals and courts

There are some major differences between courts and tribunals which are highlighted as follows:

Judicial power

A court is the part of the existing judicial system of a country and the judicial powers are granted to it by the State itself. A tribunal, on the other hand, is created through a statute and is given specific judicial powers. It is essentially an agent of the State and judiciary.

Adjudication of matters

All courts, especially civil, are empowered to try all suits unless it is specifically mentioned or directed that certain aspects may be barred. On the other hand, tribunals can only decide matters over which they have power. For instance, the National Green Tribunal cannot decide matters related to taxation since it has not been granted the powers under the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010.

Judiciary or executive

The courts of law belong to the judicial system and are thus part of the judiciary. However, although tribunals give decisions with certain judicial powers, they are wholly controlled by the government or the executive.

Training of members and officers

Unlike the judges in a court of law, tribunal members and presiding officers may not be well-equipped with the knowledge of the law. They may have administrative expertise. The judges in a court of law, however, are trained in legal studies.

Rules applicable

In a court of law, the correct procedures and rules must be followed. The facts should be taken into consideration and evidence should be taken into account. Tribunals, on the other hand, make their decisions depending entirely on the principles of natural justice.

Power over legislations

A court of law has power over legislation and has the freedom to interpret them. This power is not enjoyed by tribunals. 

The origin of tribunals in India

Tribunals were not initially a part of the judicial framework of the country. The 42nd Amendment Act of 1976 incorporated Tribunals for administrative and other purposes within Article 323A and Article 323B of the Indian Constitution. 

Article 323A: administrative tribunals

Article 323A specifically revolves around matters of public service and may only be established by the Parliament. These tribunals are generally set up at the National level or the State level. The tribunals set up under this Article of the Constitution are also known as Administrative Tribunals and are further governed by the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985.  

Article 323B: tribunals for other matters

Article 323B also identifies the other matters for which tribunals may be set up by the Parliament or state legislatures. Some of the matters as identified by the Article include the following: 

  • Taxation;
  • Industrial and Labour disputes;
  • Land Reforms;
  • The ceiling on urban property;
  • Elections (excluding matters referred in Articles 329 and 329A); and
  • Foodstuff.

Need for tribunalisation

As discussed, tribunalisation was not initially a part of our Constitution and was adopted in 1976 through the 42nd Amendment. Tribunalisation was seen as the solution to several issues that the existing judicial system could not have tackled. 

Specialisation in other fields

One major drawback of the existing system of courts was that the judges and other staff were all trained specifically in law and generally not in other fields. However, with time, the cases began revolving around issues that required special knowledge outside of the law. One example of this could be issues related to the environment that may require a certain amount of training to deliver true relief. Judges could not be expected to be specialised in multiple fields and thus, there was a need for a system where the decision-makers were well-versed with the issues at hand. This would allow faster and improve the delivery of justice. Tribunalisation offered a system where the members and chairpersons were specialised in other fields including administration.

Offers preventive justice

The court system in India does not have the powers to provide preventive justice: it can only take punitive action. In other words, it can only solve an already existing issue instead of preventing its happening. Tribunals, on the other hand, have the power of providing preventive justice and taking action before the harm has been done. 

Effective and efficient

Courts in India are overburdened with cases. Tribunals, with their speedy and flexible procedures, would not only make justice more accessible to the masses but also reduce the burden on the courts. The court system in itself is slow and tribunalisation offers efficient and cost-effective solutions for providing redressal.

Focus on social needs

Courts deal with issues that an individual or an organisation faces. The decisions taken by courts may become precedents but each decision is for the parties involved and is generally focused on the individual. Tribunalisation enabled the justice system to focus more on social needs instead of individual troubles. Thus, it became essential to adopt this system of providing justice as it offers what the existing system of courts lacked.

Provisions and legal reforms

Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985

The Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 was passed with the view to dealing with matters as listed under Article 323A of the Indian Constitution. 

According to this Act, Administrative Tribunals are to be set up at both the Union and State levels. These tribunals aim to deal with public services and the Act requires the following two types of tribunals to be created:

  • Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT): This tribunal has been set up at a national level by the Central Government. 
  • State Administrative Tribunals (SAT): These are set up at the state level by the respective State Governments.

This Act further gives information on the composition of the tribunals, the qualification, and appointment of members, the jurisdiction, and procedures to be followed by the tribunals. It provides a basic framework that each tribunal must follow.

Tribunals are generally set up under separate statutes, such as the National Green Tribunal (NGT) under the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010, the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) under Section 410 of the Companies Act, 2013 among others. The procedures followed from tribunal to tribunal may differ depending upon the statute that they have been constituted under as well as the matters that they deal with. This allows specialisation and in ensuring that each tribunal can run effectively but it may also hinder the ability of the executive to control and manage these tribunals.

Merits of tribunalisation

There are certain advantages that tribunals have over the courts of law. Some of the major advantages are outlined below:

Specialisation

Although the presiding officers in a tribunal may not be experts in the field of law, they are trained in administrative fields. Thus, their decisions are quite specific to the matters that the tribunal deals with. The reason why the decisions of the tribunals are specialised is that the members and staff deal with the same issues over a longer period of time due to which they become more efficient and understand the issues at hand better than a court of law would.

Flexibility

Since tribunals take decisions based on administrative law, their procedures are much simpler and informal as compared to the courts of law. Courts in India have strict and rigid procedures and rules which take away the flexibility of taking decisions. Thus, flexibility in decision making is a major benefit of tribunalisation.

Relief to the courts

Not only do tribunals carry out a specialised delivery of justice, but they also provide much-needed relief to the courts. One of the major reasons why tribunalisation was set up in the first place was that courts were being overburdened with cases. With the existence of tribunals, courts have to deal with fewer cases and are thus able to function more efficiently.

Speedy delivery of justice

Administrative tribunals offer speedy delivery of justice. This is possible due to the flexible nature of procedures that allow justice to be delivered swiftly and is a core objective of tribunalisation.

Lowers cost

Ordinary courts take a lot of time in delivering justice and more often than not several trips have to be made to the courts due to which costs also increase. Not only that, but the procedures are also stringent and inflexible, adding more costs to the parties involved. Tribunals, however, due to their flexible procedures and speedy delivery of justice ensure cost-cutting instead of adding to the costs of a party. This is also an important benefit of tribunalisation.

Quality administrative justice

As mentioned earlier, the officers and members that preside over tribunals are not particularly equipped with the intricacies of the law but they are trained in the field of administration. Due to this the principle of natural justice that guides their decisions, the tribunals can offer quality administrative justice which an ordinary court may not have been able to achieve.

Demerits and critique of tribunalisation

Although tribunalisation is quite meritorious, it comes with its own set of demerits and has received much criticism. Some of the major demerits of tribunalisation are as follows: 

Violates rule of law

Tribunalisation allows the executive to operate the administrative law in India. The rule of law essentially states that there shall be equality before the law and that law is supreme over the government functioning. However, tribunalisation violates the rule of law since the power over operating the administrative law is in the hands of the executive and not the judiciary. 

Lack of independence

Tribunals, being run by the executive, are often not independent enough to make decisions following the principles of natural justice. Moreover, the power of independence of the judicial system in India comes from the concept of separation of powers that tribunalisation is known to violate. Due to this, there is a lack of independence and it becomes difficult to deliver justice.

No precedent

Since the tribunals do not follow any particular strict procedures, they also do not set any precedents, or, in other words, they do not rely on previous decisions that they may have taken. Due to this, future decisions and their predictions are not easy to make which is a major defect of tribunalisation. 

Pendency and vacancy

One of the major drawbacks of tribunalisation is that there may be vacancies in the posts of members in a tribunal. The absence of members is a major cause of delays and pendency in the delivery of justice in tribunals is caused by the absence of members and staff. It should be ensured that sufficient positions are filled and the pendency is reduced as much as possible.

Procedural insufficiency

Not only are there no precedents but since the procedure of the tribunals is very informal and flexible, it makes it much easier to violate the principles of natural justice. Due to this, there could be a complete collapse of the administrative justice system that has been set up under tribunalisation. Thus, these procedural insufficiencies are a major defect of the system of criminalisation.

Conclusion

Tribunalisation had existed in India since before its Independence but was recognised by the Indian Constitution only after the 42nd Amendment. Tribunals are set up to reduce the burden on the courts and they have delivered. There is much that can be done to improve the management of tribunals by the executive. Overall, tribunals are an essential part of the justice system and have been able to achieve many objectives and goals.

References

  1. https://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/128230/8/05_chapter%201.pdf
  2. http://racolblegal.com/tribunalisation-of-judiciary-constitutional-implications/
  3. http://www.jetir.org/papers/JETIR1908980.pdf
  4. http://www.nja.nic.in/Concluded_Programmes/2017-18/P-1048_PPTs/4.Tribunalisation%20of%20Justice%20In%20India.pdf
  5. http://cgatnew.gov.in/writereaddata/jabalpurnew/docs/Introduction.pdf
  6. https://www.drishtiias.com/important-institutions/drishti-specials-important-institutions-national-institutions/tribunals-1
  7. https://blog.ipleaders.in/administrative-tribunals-in-india/

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