In administrative law, tribunal is a body that practices power to
adjudicate. ‘Tribunals’ are not termed as ordinary courts. Article 136 of
the Constitution recognises the status of tribunals which gives power to
the Honourable Supreme Court of India (hereinafter, ‘the Apex Court’) to
give a special leave to appeal from any judgment, decree, order,
determination or sentence by any Tribunal in India. Similarly, Article
227 gives power to the High Court to be superior over every Tribunal
within their jurisdiction.
By the 42nd Constitutional Amendment, Articles 323A and 323B have been
added in the Constitution vide which the Parliament was authorised to
include an administrative tribunal for the matters that arise from service
and adjudication of the matter mentioned therein.
The Growth Of Administrative Tribunal
Writing in the second half of the 19th century, Albert Venn Dicey bemoaned
what he saw a decline in respect for the Rule of Law in England. The rule of
law used to be a proud tradition that distinguished governance in England
from the executive dominance of droit administratifin France and also from
the abstract certainties of paper constitutions in countries like Belgium,
etc. for Dicey, the key to Rule of Law was legal equality.
Dicey had a knack of expressing the Rule of Law in terms of principles whose
eloquent formulations belied their deeper difficulties. His first principle
of Rule of Law was that no man is punishable or can be lawfully made to
suffer in body or goods except for a distinct breach of law established in
the ordinary legal manner before the ordinary courts of the land.
Dicey’s theory states that legislative bodies need to only be entrusted with
the job of making laws. The ordinary court of law is supposed to administer
these laws. This finds its genesis in another legal theory.
The term triaspolitica
of separation of powers was coined by
Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de La Brede et de Montesquieu, an
18th century French social and political philosopher. His
publication, Spirit of the Laws, is considered one of the greatest works in
the history of political theory and jurisprudence, and it inspired the
Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Constitution of the United States
of America. Under this model, the political authority of state is divided
into 3 bodies viz., the legislative, the executive and the judiciary. He
asserted that to most effectively promote liberty, these powers must be
separate and act independently.
Separation of powers, thus, refers to the division of government
responsibilities into distinct branches to limit any one branch from
exercising the core functions of the other.
It is contrary to the doctrine of separation of power to establish an
administrative tribunal. However, things have evolved with the functions of
government increasing and the ordinary courts of law not being equipped
enough to handle specific cases dealing with administrative functions. The
ordinary courts are overburdened and one has to go through strict rules of
procedures and evidence therein. Thus a provision of a system of
adjudication which is informal, inexpensive and fast was much needed.
Need For Admintsrative Tribunals
There are various reasons that lead to formation of administrative
tribunals. These are:
- The inadequacy of judicial system: Traditional judicial
system has proved to be inadequate in presiding over every conflict that
needs to be resolved. Also, it is slow, complex, costly, lacks expertise
and is very formal. It has been burdened excessively and one cannot
expect a fast execution in all matters. For instance, conflicts between
employees and employers comprising of strikes and lockouts among other
disputes is an issue that cannot be settled only through stern
interpretation of law. Various other factors need to be taken into
consideration and for that one needs a body of experts. This comes in
the form of Industrial Tribunal and Labour courts
- The judicial system is conservative, rigid and technical:
This is one of main reasons for establishment of tribunals. The
conventional judicial system is out-dated, stern and technical. Always
by the book. Administrative authorities on the other hand can do away
with technicalities. Tribunals are not held by stern rules of evidence
and procedure. They make use of practical aspects to settle practical
- Provisions for preventive measures: Unlike ordinary courts,
administrative authorities can take preventive measures such as
licensing and rate-fixing even before the parties in dispute appear.
- Effective enforcement: Administrative authorities can
undertake such processes to enforce the preventive measures that were
mentioned earlier which may include suspension, cancellation or
revocation of licenses and destruction of contaminated articles among
others. The conventional courts usually don’t have these solutions.
- Need for expertise: Disputes are naturally technical
sometimes. It is not expected of the judicial system to preside over
such technicalities and decide them. Administrative tribunals are
handled by experts and thus are able enough to cater to and solve such
- Others: To add to all of it, administrative adjudication is
inexpensive, fast and flexible.
L. Chandrakumar v/s Union of India
When it comes to administrative tribunals in India, one case which cannot be
left out to be discussed is L. Chandrakumar v. Union of India
. In this
matter, the constitutional validity of Articles 323A and 323B of the
Constitution were challenged on the ground that these provisions run
contrary to the power of judicial review conferred on the High Court under
Articles 226 and 227 and on the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the
The Court found that the main intention behind the Administrative Tribunal
Act, 1985 was to provide for a self-contained, self-sufficient and exclusive
forum of adjudicating all service-related matters. But it made it clear that
it was intended to perform a substituting role and not a supplementary one.
It was also held that Tribunals formulated under Article 323A and 323B
posses the power of judicial review as the same has been adopted from the
United States in India and since there is no blanket prohibition on the
conferment of judicial powers upon Courts other than the US Supreme Court,
there shouldn’t be any such restriction in India as well.
The court also agreed that if the power of judicial review under Article 32
of the Constitution, which has been described as the heart and soul of the
Constitution, can be additionally conferred on any other court, there is no
reason why the same cannot be done in case of power conferred upon the High
Court under Article 226 of the Constitution. However, it is important to
state that the jurisdiction of the High Court under Article 226 and 227 and
of the Supreme Court under Article 32 is retained and the tribunals function
as a supplementary body.
Issues And Challenges
Apart from various benefits that accrue from such Tribunals, there are
various issues and challenges as well that such tribunals are facing as
well. To begin with, there is a dearth of judges in such Tribunals.
Appointments take months to be made which in turn leads to pendency of
cases.Moreover, frequent adjournments cause more delay.
The people who approach these panels are salaried employees, and they need a
time bound effective action in manners of payment of salary, fixation of
seniority, promotion, pension, medical expenses, etc. If the relief granted
by tribunal is not implemented within time, it would become meaningless.
Most of the state tribunals are losing relevance and the reason is simple.
CAT was established in 1985. Initially the design was such that it was
treated at par with the High Court and appeals against it were to be taken
to Supreme Court alone. However, after the judgment in L. Chandrakumar,
the Supreme Court made it clear that such appeals shall lie only before the
High Courts. This had many implications. Firstly, it did not help to reduce
the burden of service matters as far as their appeals are concerned.
Secondly, since tribunals now serve as lower than High Courts, many states
considered it better to abolish them because now they would be redundant.
Tribunals are needed for a specialised and effective hearing of technical
matters that may at times miss the eye of law in the conventional courts.
The procedural simplicity and speedy justice that is guaranteed by a
tribunal reduces the burden of the constitutional courts and thus its
importance cannot be undermined. However, the issues that are being faced by
these tribunals need to be resolved to effectuate speedy justice.
- 136. Special leave to appeal by the Supreme Court- (1)
Notwithstanding anything in this Chapter, the Supreme Court may, in its
discretion, grant special leave to appeal from any judgment, decree,
determination, sentence or order in any cause or matter passed or made
by any court or tribunal in the territory of India
- Nothing in clause (1) shall apply to any judgment, determination,
sentence or order passed or made by any court or tribunal constituted by
or under any law relating to the Armed Forces.
 227. Power of superintendence over all courts by the High Court-
[(1) Every High Court shall have superintendence over all courts and
tribunals throughout the territories in relation to which it exercises
jurisdiction.] (2) Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing
provision, the High Court may— (a) call for returns from such courts;
(b) make and issue general rules and prescribe forms for regulating the
practice and proceedings of such courts; and (c) prescribe forms in
which books, entries and accounts shall be kept by the officers of any
such courts. (3) The High Court may also settle tables of fees to be
allowed to the sheriff and all clerks and officers of such courts and to
attorneys, advocates and pleaders practising therein: Provided that any
rules made, forms prescribed or tables settled under clause (2) or
clause (3) shall not be inconsistent with the provision of any law for
the time being in force, and shall require the previous approval of the
Governor. (4) Nothing in this article shall be deemed to confer on a
High Court powers of superintendence over any court or tribunal
constituted by or under any law relating to the Armed Forces.
- 323A. Administrative Tribunals- (1) Parliament may, by law, provide
for the adjudication or trial by administrative tribunals of disputes
and complaints with respect to recruitment and conditions of service of
persons appointed to public services and posts in connection with the
affairs of the Union or of any State or of any local or other authority
within the territory of India or under the control of the Government of
India or of any corporation owned or controlled by the Government. (2) A
law made under clause (1) may— (a) provide for the establishment of an
administrative tribunal for the Union and a separate administrative
tribunal for each State or for two or more States; (b) specify the
jurisdiction, powers (including the power to punish for contempt) and
authority which may be exercised by each of the said tribunals; (c)
provide for the procedure (including provisions as to limitation and
rules of evidence) to be followed by the said tribunals; (d) exclude the
jurisdiction of all courts, except the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court
under article 136, with respect to the disputes or complaints referred
to in clause (1); (e) provide for the transfer to each such
administrative tribunal of any cases pending before any court or other
authority immediately before the establishment of such tribunal as would
have been within the jurisdiction of such tribunal if the causes of
action on which such suits or proceedings are based had arisen after
such establishment; (f) repeal or amend any order made by the President
under clause (3) of article 371D;(g) contain such supplemental,
incidental and consequential provisions (including provisions as to
fees) as Parliament may deem necessary for the effective functioning of,
and for the speedy disposal of cases by, and the enforcement of the
orders of, such tribunals. (3) The provisions of this article shall have
effect notwithstanding anything in any other provision of this
Constitution or in any other law for the time being in force.
- 323B. Tribunals for other matters.-(1) The appropriate Legislature
may, by law, provide for the adjudication or trial by tribunals of any
disputes, complaints, or offences with respect to all or any of the
matters specified in clause (2) with respect to which such Legislature
has power to make laws. (2) The matters referred to in clause (1) are
the following, namely:— (a) levy, assessment, collection and enforcement
of any tax; (b) foreign exchange, import and export across customs
frontiers; (c) industrial and labour disputes;(d) land reforms by way of
acquisition by the State of any estate as defined in article 31A or of
any rights therein or the extinguishment or modification of any such
rights or by way of ceiling on agricultural land or in any other way;
(e) ceiling on urban property; (f) elections to either House of
Parliament or the House or either House of the Legislature of a State,
but excluding the matters referred to in article 329 and article
329A;(g) production, procurement, supply and distribution of food-stuffs
(including edible oilseeds and oils) and such other goods as the
President may, by public notification, declare to be essential goodsfor
the purpose of this article and control of prices of such goods;[(h)
rent, its regulation and control and tenancy issues including the right,
title and interest of landlords and tenants;][(i)] offences against laws
with respect to any of the matters specified in sub-clauses (a) to
3[(h)] and fees in respect of any of those matters;[(j)] any matter
incidental to any of the matters specified in sub-clauses (a) to [(i)].(3)
A law made under clause (1) may—(a) provide for the establishment of a
hierarchy of tribunals;(b) specify the jurisdiction, powers (including
the power to punish for contempt) and authority which may be exercised
by each of the said tribunals;(c) provide for the procedure (including
provisions as to limitation and rules of evidence) to be followed by the
said tribunals;(d) exclude the jurisdiction of all courts, except the
jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under article 136, with respect to all
or any of the matters falling within the jurisdiction of the said
tribunals;(e) provide for the transfer to each such tribunal of any
cases pending before any court or any other authority immediately before
the establishment of such tribunal as would have been within the
jurisdiction of such tribunal if the causes of action on which such
suits or proceedings are based had arisen after such establishment;(f)
contain such supplemental, incidental and consequential provisions
(including provisions as to fees) as the appropriate Legislature may
deem necessary for the effective functioning of, and for the speedy
disposal of cases by, and the enforcement of the orders of, such
tribunals. (4) The provisions of this article shall have effect
notwithstanding anything in any other provision of this Constitution or
in any other law for the time being in force.
Explanation.—In this article, appropriate Legislature, in relation to
any matter, means Parliament or, as the case may be, a State Legislature
competent to make laws with respect to such matter in accordance with
the provisions of Part XI.].
- Dicey 1992 : 110.
- (1995) 1 SCC 400.