Tribunal under administrative law is used in a specific sense and refers to adjudicatory bodies that lie outside the sphere of judicial system. Administrative tribunals are bodies that have the powers of Courts minus the complexities of ordinary judicial system. These are quasi-judicial bodies that aim at safeguarding the rights of individuals and promote justice.[i]
The concept of tribunals originated in India with the establishment of Income Tax Appellate Tribunal prior to independence.[ii] Post-independence a need was felt for resolving administrative disputes with greater speed and flexibility. Indeed the core objective for the inception of administrative tribunals is to provide specialised, efficient, effective and speedy justice to people.[iii]
The Indian Constitution guarantees through its provisions welfare of individuals. People have right to quick and specialised disposal of matters.[iv] The same is not possible by way of the prevailing judicial system due to the ever burgeoning load of cases, technical impediments, etc. Therefore the need for tribunals was immediate and non-negotiable.
The 42nd Constitutional Amendment introduced part XIV-A to the Constitution. This included articles 323A and 323B, which provided for establishment of administrative tribunals for dealing matters both administrative and otherwise. Accordingly tribunals are to be organised in such a manner that they don’t violate the integrity of the judicial system.[v]
Introduction of articles 323A and 323B was primarily done to exclude the jurisdiction of High Courts under articles 226 and 227 as originating as an alternative institutional mechanism in specific judicial cases. It was done to reduce the backlog of cases on the High Courts.[vi] Therefore tribunals are organised as a part of the civil and criminal judicial system under the supremacy of Supreme Court of India.[vii]
Characteristics of tribunals[viii]
An administrative tribunal is neither an absolutely administrative body nor an exclusively judicial institution. Therefore they are quasi-judicial in nature. Enlisted below are certain features of administrative tribunals that make them distinct from judicial courts:
- Administrative tribunals must have statutory origin, i.e., they have been created by virtue of a statute.
- They have certain features of courts of law but not all
- The tribunal performs quasi-judicial functions and is bound to act judicially under each and every circumstance.
- These tribunals are not adhered strictly by the rules and procedures of evidence
- Tribunals are independent and not subject to any administrative interference while performing the judicial and quasi-judicial functions endowed on it
- In procedural matters, the administrative tribunal possesses the powers of any ordinary court to summon witnesses, administer oaths, compel production of documents, etc.
- Similar to any ordinary court of law, the tribunals are bound by principles of natural justice.
- Tribunals are to be fair, open, transparent and impartial
- Prerogative writs of certiorari and prohibition are available against the decisions of administrative tribunals.
Administrative tribunals for service matter: Article 323A
Article 323A provided for the establishment of administrative tribunals under law made by parliament for adjudication of disputes and complaints pertaining to the recruitment and condition of service of civil servants. It includes in its ambit employees of any local or other authority within the territory of India or under the control of government of India or a corporation owned/controlled by the government.[ix]
Separate tribunals need to be established at central and state level and separately for each state. The statute must also incorporate the jurisdiction and powers to be exercised by the tribunals. The statute incorporating the tribunals must also outlay the procedure to be followed and that jurisdiction of all courts, except the Supreme Court, is barred.
Tribunals for other matters: Article 323B[x]
Article 323B empowers the Parliament and state legislatures to establish tribunals for adjudication of matters enlisted in clause (2) to the article. Some of the matters being:
- Levy, assessment, collection and enforcement of any tax
- Foreign exchange and export
- Industrial and labour disputes
- Production, procurement, supply and distribution of foodstuff
- Rent, its regulation and control, tenancy issues
In L Chandra Kumar v UOI[xi] the Supreme Court provided extensive pointers pertaining to powers of tribunals constituted under articles 323A and 323B. The SC struck down clauses 2(d) of 323A and 3(d) of 323B since these provisions excluded jurisdiction of the High Court and Supreme Court under Articles 226 and 32 respectively. The Court held that tribunals constitute under 323A and 323B would remain to be courts of first instance in the respective fields for which they have been instituted. Litigants won’t be allowed to approach the High Court without going to the tribunals first.
Also no appeal against the decision of a tribunal would lie directly in the Supreme Court under article 136. Instead the aggrieved party would be entitled to move to high Court under article 226/227 following which they may approach the Court under article 136.[xii]
Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985[xiii]
In pursuance article 323A the Parliament passed the Administrative Tribunal Act, 1985 for providing rules governing all the matters pertaining to 323A(1). Accordingly, there must be a Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) and a State Administrative Tribunal (SAT) at state level. The tribunal constituted would be competent to dwell upon the constitutionality of relevant laws and statutes.
Sec. 14 provides that the Central Tribunal from the day of institution would exercise all the jurisdictions, powers and authority in relation to matters given below. These matters being in the jurisdiction of other courts; except the Supreme Court before enactment of the Act[xiv]:
1. Recruitment of any civil service of the Union or All India Services or civil posts under the Union or civilian employees in the defence forces
2. Employees of any local or other authority within the territory of India or under the control of government of India or any corporation/society owned or controlled by the government.
3. All service matters of such persons whose services have been placed by the State Government or any local or other authority or any corporation at the disposal of the Central government.
Sec. 22 lays down the powers and procedures to be followed by tribunals[xv]:
1. A tribunal is not bound to follow the provisions of CPC, 1908. It has the power to regulate its own conduct and is bound by the principles of natural justice
2. A tribunal shall decide the applications and cases made to it as soon as possible and all such cases will be decided after proper scrutinizing of the documents and written submissions provided and oral arguments made.
3. Tribunals have same powers as that of civil courts provided in the CPC:
- Summoning and enforcing attendance of a person
- Examination on oath
- Production of documents
- Receiving evidence and affidavits
- Asking for public records under sections 123 and 124 of Indian Evidence Act, 1872
- Issuing of commissions for examination of witnesses and checking the authenticity documents
- Deciding cases ex parte
- Reviewing its decision
- Setting aside any order passed ex parte by it
- Any other matter prescribed by the Central Government
Advantages of Administrative Tribunals[xvi]
- Flexibility: with inception of administrative tribunals in India, flexibility and versatility got ingrained in the judicial system of India. Contrary to the procedures of judicial courts which are stringent and rigid, the administrative tribunals have a flexible and easy to approach procedure.
- Speedy Justice: the basic reason for introduction of administrative tribunals is to deliver quality justice in the least time possible. Also the process in administrative tribunals is not complex which makes it efficient and disposal rate is greater, without compromising the quality of justice.
- Cost Effective: The Administrative Tribunals take less time to solve the cases as compared to the ordinary courts. As a result, the expenses are reduced. On the other hand, the ordinary courts have cumbrous and slow-going, thus, making the litigation costly. Hence, compared to the usual judicial route, administrative tribunals are cost effective.
- Quality Justice: If we consider the present scenario, the administrative tribunals are the best and the most effective method of providing adequate and quality justice in less time.
- Relief to Courts: administrative tribunals, true to their objective, have decreased the backlog of cases on the ordinary courts.
Disadvantages of Administrative Tribunals[xvii]
Administrative tribunals play a very crucial role in the welfare of modern society, however they are no different to having disadvantages to them. Some of the criticisms of the administrative tribunal are discussed below-
- Against the Rule of Law: Establishment of administrative tribunals has repudiated the concept of rule of law. Rule of law was propounded to promote equality before the law and supremacy of ordinary law over the arbitrary functioning of the government. The administrative tribunals restrict the ambit of the rule of law to a certain extent by providing separate laws and procedures for certain matters.
- Lack of specified procedure: The administrative adjudicatory bodies do not have any rigid set of rules and procedures. Thus, there is a chance of violation of the principle of natural justice.
- Lack of predictability and stability: Since the administrative tribunals do not follow precedents, it is not possible to predict future decisions.
- Scope of Arbitrariness: The civil and criminal courts work on a uniform code of procedure as prescribed under CPC and CrPC respectively. But the administrative tribunals have no such stringent procedure. Tribunals are allowed to make their own procedure- this gives room for arbitrariness in the functioning of these tribunals.
- Absence of legal expertise: Legal qualification is not a requirement for members of tribunals. They may be the experts of different fields but not essentially trained in judicial work. Therefore, they may lack the required legal expertise which is an indispensable part of resolving disputes.
In conclusion, administration has become an important part of the government as well as the citizen’s life. Due to this increasing role, it is important to establish a competent authority for the redressal of people’s grievances and adjudication of the disputes. Therefore, the concept of administrative tribunals was emerged and is dynamically flourishing in India holding certain flaws and strengths.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How many administrative tribunals are there in India?
The enactment of Administrative Tribunals Act in 1985 opened a new chapter in the sphere of administering justice to the aggrieved government servants. Administrative Tribunals Act owes its origin to Article 323-A of the Constitution which empowers Central Government to set-up by an Act of Parliament, Administrative Tribunals for adjudication of disputes and complaints with respect to recruitment and conditions of service of persons appointed to the public service and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union and the States. In pursuance of the provisions contained in the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985, the Administrative Tribunals set-up under it exercise original jurisdiction in respect of service matters of employees covered by it. As a result of the judgement dated 18 March 1997 of the Supreme Court, the appeals against the orders of an Administrative Tribunal shall lie before the Division Bench of the concerned High Court.
The Act provides for establishment of Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) and the State Administrative Tribunals. The CAT was set-up on 1 November 1985. Today, it has 17 regular benches, 15 of which operate at the principal seats of High Courts and the remaining two at Jaipur and Lucknow. These Benches also hold circuit sittings at other seats of High Courts. In brief, the tribunal consists of a Chairman, Vice-Chairman and Members. The Members are drawn, both from judicial as well as administrative streams so as to give the Tribunal the benefit of expertise both in legal and administrative spheres.
Several states have established Tribunals. In some states, the decisions and judgments are binding upon the state Government. In some states such as Andhra Pradesh, the judgments of Tribunals are binding on the State Government unless nullified by the latter within a period of two months. In some states the Tribunals have taken away the jurisdiction of the respective high courts in service matters, while in some other states, they do not abridge or ban the jurisdiction of the concerned HC.
2. Are there administrative tribunals in other legal systems also?
The administrative tribunals are not original invention of the Indian Political System. They are well established in all democratic countries of Europe as well as United States of America
3. How is the relationship between administrative tribunals and the courts an evolutionary relationship?
Tribunals have been defined as “Bodies outside the hierarchy of the courts with administrative or judicial functions” (Curzon, Dictionary of Law, 1994, p387). Administrative tribunals run parallel to the court system. Although administrative tribunals may resemble courts because they make decisions about disputes, they are not part of the court system.
There are two significant differences between administrative tribunals and courts:
1. Administrative tribunals are set up to be less formal, less expensive, and a faster way to resolve disputes than by using the traditional court system.
2. Tribunal members who make decisions (adjudicators) usually have special knowledge about the topic they are asked to consider. Judges, however, are expected to have general knowledge about many areas of law, not particular expertise about the law in the case they are hearing.
In a tribunal hearing, your case may be heard by one adjudicator sitting alone, or by a panel of several adjudicators if the matter is complicated. These adjudicators have special training and experience to conduct hearings, but they are not judges. But, like a trial in court before a judge, the adjudicators are responsible for conducting fair hearings and making final decisions on the issues. They do this by considering the evidence and applying the legislation, case law, and policies that relate to your case.
4. What is the relationship between administrative tribunals and article 136?
The SC in L Chamdrakumar case had ruled that tribunals though distinct to the ordinary judicial system, would remain subordinate to the SC and would be subjected to judicial review by the SC. But it also provided that people aggrieved by orders of the tribunal can’t directly always come to the SC under Art 136. Citizens can’t bypass the redressal path that runs through HCs
5. Are administrative tribunals subject to judicial review?
The Law Commission in 215th Report (2008) titled “L. Chandra Kumar be revisited by Larger bench of Supreme Court of India”, pointed out that the Administrative Tribunals were conceived and constituted as an effective and real substitute for the High Courts as regards service matters are concerned. The power of judicial review of the High Courts cannot be called as inviolable as that of the Supreme Court. The very objective behind the establishment of the Administrative Tribunals will stand defeated if all the cases adjudicated by them have to go before the concerned High Court. However, the Commission did not record any explanation/reason as to how the power of judicial review of the High Court could be less inviolable than the Supreme Court, particularly after the seven-Judge Bench judgment in L. Chandra Kumar v. Union of India.
Edited by Shikhar Shrivastava
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje
[i] C.K. Takwani, Lectures on Administrative Law, Eastern Book Company, Fourth Edition, Lecture VIIAdministrative Tribunals, p.228
[ii] C.K. Takwani, Lectures on Administrative Law, Eastern Book Company, Fourth Edition, Lecture VIIAdministrative Tribunals, p.228
[iii] Dr. Ashok K. Jain, Administrative Law- Supplement 2010, Ascent Publications, Ch.8 – Tribunals, p. S117
[iv] Dr. Ashok K. Jain, Administrative Law- Supplement 2010, Ascent Publications, Ch.8 – Tribunals, p. S117
[v] S.P. Sathe, Administrative Law, fifth edition, 1994
[vi] Dr. Ranbir Singh & Dr. A Laskhminath, Constitutional Law, LexisNexis Butterworths 2006, Chapter VI – Tribunals, p.63
[vii] Dr. Ranbir Singh & Dr. A Laskhminath, Constitutional Law, LexisNexis Butterworths 2006, Chapter VI – Tribunals, p.63
[viii] Durga Das Basu, Commentary on the Constitution of India, Lexis Nexis Butterworths Wadhwa Nagpur, 8th Edition 2011, Vol. 9, Part XIV-A: Tribunals, p.2075- 2088
[ix] Durga Das Basu, Commentary on the Constitution of India, Lexis Nexis Butterworths Wadhwa Nagpur, 8th Edition 2011, Vol. 9, Part XIV-A: Tribunals, p.2075- 2088
[x] Durga Das Basu, Commentary on the Constitution of India, Lexis Nexis Butterworths Wadhwa Nagpur, 8th Edition 2011, Vol. 9, Part XIV-A: Tribunals, p.2075- 2088
[xi] (1995) 1 SCC 400
[xii] (1995) 1 SCC 400
[xiii] I.P. Massey, Administrative Law, Eastern Book Company, 6th Edition, p. 494- 528
[xiv] I.P. Massey, Administrative Law, Eastern Book Company, 6th Edition, p. 494- 528
[xv] M.P. Jain, Indian Constitutional Law, 6th Edition, 2010
[xvi] M.P. Jain, Indian Constitutional Law, 6th Edition, 2010
[xvii] M.P. Jain, Indian Constitutional Law, 6th Edition, 2010