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Administrative Tribunals in India

Salus Populi Est Suprema Lex - (Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law)

In Administrative law, the term tribunal is used in a significant sense and refers to only the adjudicatory bodies which are outside the sphere of the ordinary court of law. Technically in India, the judicial powers are vested in the Courts which aim to safeguard the rights of the individuals and promote justice. Therefore, to institute an effective system of the judiciary with fewer complexities, the judicial powers are delegated to the administrative authorities, thus, giving rise to administrative tribunals or administrative adjudicatory bodies which holds quasi-judicial features.

The traditional theory of laissez faire has been given up and the old police state has now become a welfare state. This radical change in the philosophy of the role of the state expanded the functions of the state. Now the state is over burdened with sovereign functions, social security, social welfare, socio-economic activities and so on. It is not possible for the ordinary courts of law to entertain all socio-economic problems which are not related to purely legal issues.

In Durga shankar Mehta v. Raghuraj Singh AIR 1954 SC 520.
The Supreme court defined Tribunal as:
The expression Tribunal as used in Article 136 does not mean the same thing as 'court' but includes, within its ambit, all adjudicating bodies, provided they are constituted by the state and are invested with judicial as distinguished from administrative or executive functions.

According to The Franks committee, Tribunals have certain characteristics which often give them advantages over the courts. These are cheapness, accessibility, freedom from technicality, expedition and expert knowledge of their particular subject.

Constitutional Recognition:

Article 136 of the constitution empowers the Supreme Court to grant special leave to appeal from any judgment, decree, order, determination, sentence or order passed or made by any tribunal in India.

Article 227 enables every High Court to exercise power of superintendence over all tribunals throughout the territories over which it exercises jurisdiction.

The constitutional (42nd amendment) Act, 1976, inserted Article 323-A and 323-B, by which parliament has been authorized to constitute administrative tribunals for settlement of disputes and adjudication of matters specified therein.

Administrative Tribunal: Vague Title:

According to Wade, the expression Administrative Tribunal is misleading for various reasons:
  1. Every tribunal is constituted by an Act of the parliament and not by government.
  2. Decisions of such tribunals are judicial rather than administrative.
  3. Sometimes tribunals adjudicate disputes between private individuals.
  4. Such tribunals are independent, free from any administrative interference.

In order to be a tribunal, it is essential that the power of adjudication must be derived from a statute and not from an agreement between the parties
Domestic tribunal is a private body set up by the agreement between the parties.

Reasons For Growth:
  • Increasing governmental functions and activities overloaded the courts. The traditional judicial system proved to be inadequate to decide and settle all the disputes requiring resolution.
  • In modern society, complex questions arise which cannot be decided on objective legal principles, they are to be solved by keeping in mind policy consideration and public interest.
  • Traditional courts are only equipped with legal knowledge, but modern administration requires, specialization and expertise knowledge in relevant fields.
  • Administrative tribunals can avoid technicalities.
  • Administrative tribunals can take preventive measures.
  • Administrative tribunals conferred with wide discretion power, and decisions may be given on the basis of departmental policy and other relevant factors.
  • Administrative tribunals work more rapidly, cheaply, and efficiently than ordinary courts.

Administrative Tribunal And Court: Distinction:

  • A court of law is a part of traditional judicial system and it derives its power from the state. On the other hand and administrative tribunal is an agency created by a statute and invested with judicial Powers.
  • Ordinary civil courts have judicial powers to try all suits of a civil nature, except those whose cognizance are either expressed or implied Barred. Administrative tribunals only have the power to try cases which are specially conferred upon them through some statute.
  • Lack of jurisdiction to try all cases of civil nature does not necessarily lead to an inference that the forum is a tribunal and not a court. A court can also be constituted with limited jurisdiction.
  • Judges of ordinary courts of law are independent from the executive power of the government. Members of administrative tribunals are entirely in the hands of government in respect of certain matters.
  • The presiding officer of a court of law is a trained legal officer. Whereas the president or the members of the tribunal may not be trained as well in law.
  • In a court of law, a judge cannot decide a matter in which he is interested. An administrative tribunal may be party to the dispute to be decided by it.
  • A court of law is bound by all the rules of evidence and procedure. An administrative tribunal is not bound by those rules unless otherwise directed.
  • A court of law must decide all the questions objectively on the basis of the evidence and material produced before it.
  • An administrative tribunal may decide the questions taking into account the departmental policies or expediency and the decision may be subjective rather than objective.
  • While a court of law is bound by precedents, principle of res judicata and estoppels. An administrative tribunal is not strictly bound by them.
  • A court of law can decide the vires of a legislation while and tribunal cannot do so.

Administrative Tribunal Vs. Executive Authority:

  • Administrative tribunal is not an executive body or administrative department of the government.
  • The powers conferred on an administrative tribunal are Quasi judicial and not purely administrative.
  • Administrative tribunals are bound to act judicially and they have to observe the principle of natural justice.
  • They add administrative only because they are part of an administrative scheme for which a minister is responsible to parliament and because the reasons for preferring them to the ordinary courts are administrative reasons.

  • It is a creation of a statute and thus it has a statutory origin.
  • It has some of the features of ordinary court but not all of them.
  • Admission tribunals are interested with judicial powers of the state.
  • They perform judicial and quasi judicial functions but not purely administrative or executive functions and they are bound to act judicially.
  • Administrative tribunals possess the powers of an ordinary court with regard to the procedural matters.
  • Administrative tribunal is not bound by the strict rules of evidence and procedure.
  • Administrative tribunals are not always concerned exclusively with the cases in which government is a party they also decide disputes between two private parties.
  • Administrative tribunals are independent and they are not subject to any administrative interference in discharge of the judicial and quasi judicial functions.
  • The writs of certiorari and prohibition are available against the decision of administrative tribunals.

Power To Grant Interim Relief:

  • An administrative tribunal is created by statute.
  • It possesses all the power conferred on it by the parent Act.
  • It has also the power to grant interim relief during the pendency of proceedings before it.
Maxwell states: where an Act confers jurisdiction, it impliedly also grants the power of doing all such acts, or employing such means, as are essentially necessary to its execution.

Administrative Tribunals And Principles Of Natural Justice:

  • An essential feature of Administrative tribunal is that they decide the disputes independently, judicially, objectively and without any bias for or prejudice against any of the parties to the dispute.
  • The Franks committee, in its report (1957) has proclaimed three fundamental objectives, 1) openness, 2) fairness, 3) impartiality.
  • These principals are accepted in India. The Law commission? in its 14th report (1958) has observed that administrative tribunals perform quasi-judicial functions and they must act judicially and in accordance with the principles of natural justice.

Rules Of Procedure And Evidence:

  • The tribunals are invested with powers conferred on civil courts by CPC in respect of, 1) summoning of witnesses and enforcement of attendance, 2) discovery and inspection, 3) production of documents, etc.
  • The proceedings of administrative tribunals are deemed to be judicial proceedings for the purposes of sections 193, 195 and 228 of IPC and sections 345 and 346 of CrPC.
  • They are not bound by the strict rules of procedure and evidence. Provided they observed the principles of natural justice.

Reasons For Decision:

  • Recording of reasons in support of the order is considered to be a part of natural justice.
  • In M.P. Industries Ltd. vs. Union of India, AIR 1966 SC 671
Subba Rao J. observed:
Arbitrariness in their functioning destroys the concept of a welfare state itself. A reasoned order is desirable condition of judicial disposal.

Finality Of Decisions:

In Dhulabhai Vs. State of M.P. AIR 1969 SC 78

Hidayatullah CJ. summarised the principles after exhaustively discussing the case-law.
  • Where the statute gives finality of the order of the special tribunal, the civil court's jurisdiction must be held to be excluded.
  • Where there is an express bar of jurisdiction of the court.
  • Provisions of a particular Act which is challenged as an ultra virus act cannot be brought before the tribunal constituted under that act.
  • When a provision is already declared unconstitutional, a suit is open? against that provision. A writ of certiorari may include a direction for refund if the claim is clearly within the time prescribed by the limitation Act, but it is not compulsory remedy to replace a suit.
  • When that particular act contains no machinery for refund of tax collected in excess of constitutional limit then a suit lies.

Judicial Review:

  • No appeal, revision or reference against the decision of an administrative tribunal is maintainable if the said right is not conferred by the relevant statute.
  • However, this will not affect the jurisdiction of High court under Articles 226 and 227 and of the Supreme Court under Articles 32 and 136 of the Constitution.
  • The power of judicial review is recognized by the constitution and the same cannot be taken away by any statute.

According to Denning LJ, if tribunals were to be at liberty to exceed their jurisdiction without any check by the courts, the rule of law would be at the end.

Power To Review:

An Administrative tribunal becomes functus officio as soon as it makes an order and there after cannot review its decision unless the same is conferred on it by a statute, and the decision must stand unless and until it is set aside by the appellate or revisional authority or by a competent court.

Doctrine Of Resjudicata:

  • Section 11 of CPC deals with doctrine of res judicata.
  • Though section 11 of CPC speaks about civil suits only, the general principles underlying the doctrine of res judicata applies even to administrative adjudication.
  • Thus, an award pronounced by the industrial tribunal operates as res judicata between the same parties and the payment of wages authority has no jurisdiction to entertain the said question again.

Whether Bound By The Decision Of Supreme Court And High Court:

  • Article 141 of the constitution declares that:
    the law declared by the Supreme Court shall be binding on all courts within the territory of India". Undoubtedly, the scope of Article 141 is wide enough to include all ordinary courts as well as the administrative tribunals.
  • There is no such provision corresponding to Article 141 with respect to the law declared by the High court.
  • As the Supreme Court is the apex court in the country, the High court is the apex court in the state.
  • Like the Supreme Court, the High court over and above the writ jurisdiction, has also supervisory jurisdiction of all subordinate courts and inferior tribunals within the territories in relation to which it exercises its jurisdiction.
  • Therefore if any administrative tribunal act without jurisdiction, exceeds its power or seeks to transgress the law laid down by the High court, the High court can certainly interfere with the action of the tribunal.

Doctrine Of Precedent:

  • Administrative tribunals are bound by the decisions of the Supreme Court and of the High court in the territories within which they exercises their jurisdiction and also bound by the decisions of a higher authority.
In Bhopal sugar industries limited vs ITO AIR 1961 SC 182.

The Income-Tax officer refused to carry out clear and unambiguous direction issued by the Income-Tax Tribunal. Observing that such refusal would be against the fundamental principle of hierarchy of courts, the Supreme Court stated:
such a view is restricted of the basic principle of the administration of Justice"

Doctrine Of Stare Decisis:

The doctrine of Stare Decisis applied to crown's court does not stricto sensu apply to administrative tribunals.
The duty of a Tribunal is "to reach the right decision in the circumstances of the moment" and they are not bound to follow previous decisions.

Contempt Of Administrative Tribunals:

  • Article 129 and 215 of the constitution preserve all the powers of the Supreme Court and the High courts, respectively, as a court of record which includes the power to punish the contempt for itself.
  • Section 10 of The contempt of courts Act, 1971 empowers every High court to exercise the same jurisdiction, power and authority in respect of contempt of courts subordinate to it as it exercises in respect of contempt of itself.
  • The question, however, is whether a Tribunal can be said to be a "court" subordinate to the High court or not.
  • In some cases, The Supreme court held that the phrase "courts subordinate to a High court" under The Contempt of courts Act is wide enough to include administrative Tribunal throughout the territories in relation to which the High court exercises it's jurisdiction under Article 227 of the constitution, whereas in some the other cases, it has taken a contrary view.

  • Sometimes there is no appeal against the Tribunal's decision, e.g. Rent Tribunal. Tremendous power which can ruin a person's life. There is no higher court in which their decision can be tested.
  • A court of no appeal has been put into the hands of men who are generally neither qualified lawyers, magistrate nor judges.
  • There is no evidence on oath, and therefore there can be no proper cross examination as in a court of law.
  • Procedure is as the Tribunal shall determine. No rules have been laid down as to the procedure at the Tribunal hearing. Witnesses may be heard or not heard at their pleasure.

Franks Committee:

In 1955, a committee was appointed by the Lord Chancellor under the chairmanship of Sir Oliver Frank to look into the complaints and make recommendations of the constitution and working of the administrative tribunals in England.

The committee considered the grievances and submitted its report in 1957 and made the following recommendations:
  • The appointment, removal, qualification and remuneration of the members of the Tribunal. Procedure for each Tribunal, based on common principles but suited to its needs, should be formulated by the council.
  • Hearing should be in public, except only in cases involving, 1) public security, 2) intimate personal or financial circumstances or 3) professional reputation.
  • Legal representation should always be allowed, save only in most exceptional circumstances.
  • Tribunal should have the power to take evidence on oath, to examine witnesses and to award costs.
  • The decisions of the Tribunal should be reasoned and made available to the parties in writing.
  • There should be right of appeal on facts, law and merits to an appellate Tribunal, except where the lower Tribunal is exceptionally strong.
  • There should also be remedies through certiorari, prohibition and mandamus.
  • The council should advise, and report quickly, on the application of all these principles to the various tribunals, and should advise on any proposal to establish a new Tribunal.

Griffith and Street have included the following recommendations:
  • Adjudication of law and fact in which no policy question is involved should not be carried out by Ministers themselves or by civil service in the Minister's name.
  • The personnel of tribunals deciding issue of law or fact or applying standard should be independent of the department with which their functions are connected.
  • The personnel should enjoy security of tenure and adequacy of remuneration.
  • At least one member of the Tribunal should be a lawyer if the question of fact and law arise, one member may have the expert knowledge where such knowledge would be helpful to guide discretion and apply standards.
  • An Appellate system should be provided.

These recommendations were accepted by the government and implemented by the Tribunals and Inquires Act, 1958 which was substituted by the act of 1971 and then by the act of 1992

Constitutional (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976:

The amendments made two major changes as far as Tribunals are concerned.
  • It took away the power of superintendence of High court over administrative tribunals which they possessed under Article 227 of the constitution.
  • After Part XIV, it inserted Part XIV-A (Article 323-A and 323- B) by enabling Parliament to constitute administrative tribunals for the purposes specified therein. These amendments may also provide for the exclusion of jurisdiction of all courts except that of the Supreme court under Article 136.

Constitution (44th Amendment) Act, 1978

  • Article 227 was amended and jurisdiction of High courts over administrative tribunal had been restored.
  • No amendment was made in Part XVI-A as inserted by the Constitutional (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976.

Sampath Kumar V. Union Of India (1987) 1 Scc 124:

  • In exercise of the power conferred by Article 323-A of the constitution, Parliament enacted the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985.
  • Section 28 of the said Act excluded the power of judicial review in service matters under Article 226 and 227 of the constitution.
  • The constitutionality of the Act was challenged before the Supreme Court in this leading case.
  • The constitutional bench upheld the validity of the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985.

Post Sampath Kumar Position:

In Sampath Kumar, the Supreme Court observed that CATs were the real substitutes of the High Courts de jure as well as de facto in regards to the matters to be dealt with by them and no void had been created.

The Arrears Committee:
  • There were some serious complaints against the tribunals as they did not allow to argue properly, some of them did not allow oral submissions, some of them did not allow to cite Supreme Court judgments and so on.
  • The ARREARS COMMITTEE after the in-depth review of these problems, stated in its report Vol. II (1989-1990), CHAP 8, 9. 110- 111; PARA, 8-65.:
    The overall picture regarding tribunalisation of justice in our country in not satisfactory and encouraging. There is a need for a fresh look and review and a serious consideration before experiment is extended to new areas of the fields, especially if the constitutional jurisdiction of the High court is to be simultaneously ousted.

L. Chandra Kumar V. Union Of India (1997) 3 Scc 261:

  • After considering various decisions on the point, the larger bench held that the power of judicial review is the basic and essential feature of the constitution.
  • Parliament is empowered to amend the constitution, but that power cannot be exercised so as to damage the essential feature of the constitution.
  • It was held that, Section 28 of the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985 and clause 2(d) of Article 323-A and clause 3(d) of Article 323-B was ultra vires as amended by the 42nd amendment Act, 1976

A sound justice delivery system is a sine qua non for the efficient governance of a country wedded to the rule of law. An independent and impartial judiciary in which the litigating public has faith and confidence alone can deliver the goods.

Any institutional mechanism or authority in negation of judicial review is destructive of basic structure.

For inspiring confidence and faith in the litigating public they must have an assurance that the persons deciding the disputes are totally and completely free from influence of pressure from executive. To maintain independence and impartiality, it is necessary that the persons appointed in tribunals are judicial and objective approach and also possess sufficient knowledge and legal training.

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Sagnik Chakraborty
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Authentication No: DE34173691466-6-1220

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