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Report No. 272

Assessment of Statutory Frameworks of Tribunals in India

Chapter - I


1.1. The term 'Tribunal' is derived from the word 'Tribunes', which means 'Magistrates of the Classical Roman Republic'. Tribunal is referred to as the office of the 'Tribunes' i.e., a Roman official under the monarchy and the republic with the function of protecting the plebeian citizen from arbitrary action by the patrician magistrates. A Tribunal, generally, is any person or institution having an authority to judge, adjudicate on, or to determine claims or disputes - whether or not it is called a tribunal in its title.1

1 Walker, David M., Oxford Companion to Law, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-866110-X, 1980 at p.1239.

1.2. 'Tribunal' is an administrative body established for the purpose of discharging quasi-judicial duties. An Administrative Tribunal is neither a Court nor an executive body. It stands somewhere midway between a Court and an administrative body. The exigencies of the situation proclaiming the enforcement of new rights in the wake of escalating State activities and furtherance of the demands of justice have led to the establishment of Tribunals.2

2 Kagzi, M.C.J, The Indian Administrative Law, Metropolitan Book Co. Pvt. Ltd., Delhi, 3rd edn., 1973 at pp. 276 and 279.

1.3. The delay in justice administration, is one of the biggest obstacles which have been tackled with the establishment of Tribunals.3 According to H.W.R Wade, "The social legislation of the twentieth century demanded tribunals for purely administrative reasons; they could offer speedier, cheaper and more accessible justice, essential for the administration of welfare schemes involving large number of small claims. The process of Courts of law is elaborate, slow and costly....Commissioners of customs and excise were given judicial powers more than three centuries ago. Tax tribunals were in fact established as far back as the 18th century."4

3 Sinha, S. B., "Judicial Reform in Justice-Delivery System" (2004) 4 SCC (Jour) 35.

4 Wade, H.W.R & Forsyth, C.F., Administrative Law, Oxford University Press, United Kingdom, 10th edn., 2009 at p. 773.

1.4. In due course of time, a need for a system of adjudication has arisen which is more suited to give response to the emerging requirements of the society which may not be so elaborate and costly as provided by the Courts of law. The primary reason for the creation of Tribunals was to overcome the crisis of delays and backlogs in the administration of justice. Therefore, the Administrative Tribunals have been established to overcome the major lacuna present in the Justice delivery system in the light of the legal maxim Lex dilationes semper exhorret which means 'The law always abhors delays'.5

5 K. I. Vibhute, "Administrative Tribunals and the High Courts: A Plea for Judicial Review" 29 JILI 524 (1987).

1.5. The delay in disposal of cases relating to civil matters is significantly increasing arrears, and the courts seem helpless in this matter. "The necessities of the modern collectivist State with the aim of the creation of a socialist society are multipurpose". The State has ceased to be neutral with the giving up of the philosophy of laissez faire and has become vigorous so as to affect every man in every sphere.6

6 Supra Note 2 at 271.

1.6. To overcome the situation that arose due to the pendency of cases in various Courts, domestic tribunals and other Tribunals have been established under different Statutes, hereinafter referred to as the Tribunals. A 'tribunal' in the legal perspective is different from a domestic tribunal. The 'domestic tribunal' refers to the administrative agencies designed to regulate the professional conduct and to enforce disciple among the members by exercising investigatory and adjudicatory powers. Whereas, Tribunals are the quasi-judicial bodies established to adjudicate disputes related to specified matters which exercise the jurisdiction according to the Statute establishing them. Similarly, Ombudsman looks into the complaints of grievances suffered by the citizen at the hands of some organ of the administration.

1.7. The increase in number of statutory Tribunals mirrors the rise in State activities. Because the legislation has progressively bestowed benefits on individuals and subjected their everyday lives to propagating control and management, the scope for dispute between an individual and the State has emerged.7 Tribunals are cheaper (cost effective) than Courts but their constitution and functions are different from the Courts. However, a Tribunal is more suited than a Court to undertake the task after considering all relevant issues of law, fact, policy and discretion.8

7 Elliott, Mark, Beatson, Jack, Matthews, Martin, Administrative Law: Text and Materials, Oxford University Press, New York, 3rd edn., 2005 at p. 679.

8 Groves, Matthew, Lee, H. P., Australian Administrative Law: Fundamentals, Principles and Doctrines, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1st edn., 2007 at p. 77.

1.8. According to Chantal Stebbings, "The reasons for the diversity, lack of coherence, uncertainty of status and inherent individual weaknesses which have rendered both theoretical analysis and practical reform so problems lie to a considerable extent in the historico-legal context of the statutory administrative tribunal as an institution in the nineteenth century." He further adds, "The term 'tribunal', not being a term of art, referred to any dispute-resolution body or process, from the regular courts of law, through domestic bodies regulating clubs, societies and professions, to ministers making decisions in the course of their administrative duties."9

9 Stebbings, Chantal, Legal Foundations of Tribunals in Nineteenth Century England, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1st edn., 2006 at p. 3.

1.9. According to Neil Hawke, "Administrative tribunals might well be referred to as 'administrative courts' since usually their task is to adjudicate disputes which arise from the statutory regulation of a wide variety of situations, some of which will involve decisions or other action by administrative agencies, or relationship between private individuals."10

10 Hawke, Neil, Introduction to Administrative Law, Cavendish Publishing Limited, United Kingdom, 1st edn., 1998 at p. 65.

1.10. The Franks' Report (1957) identified the advantages of Tribunals as 'cheapness (cost effectiveness), accessibility, freedom from technicality, expedition and expert knowledge of their particular subject.' It enumerated three broad principles that should govern the operation of the Tribunals as well as the planning inquiries, which are openness, fairness and impartiality in the following words:

'Tribunals are not ordinary courts, but neither are they appendages of Government Departments. Much of the official evidence appeared to reflect the view that tribunals should properly be regarded as part of the machinery of administration, for which the Government must retain a close and continuing responsibility. Thus, for example, tribunals in the social services field would be regarded as adjuncts to the administration of the services themselves. We do not accept this view. We consider that tribunals should properly be regarded as machinery provided by Parliament for adjudication rather than as part of the machinery of administration.

The essential point is that in all these cases Parliament has deliberately provided for a decision outside and independent of the Department concerned, either at first instance or on appeal from a decision of a Minister or of an official in a special statutory position. Although the relevant statutes do not in all cases expressly enact that tribunals are to consist entirely of persons outside the Government service, the use of the term 'tribunal' in legislation undoubtedly bears this connotation, and the intention of Parliament to provide for the independence of tribunals is clear and unmistakable.' 11

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