Heed law panel to strengthen tribunals

Heed law panel to strengthen tribunals

The Law Commission has done well to study the functioning of the central tribunals in the country and to make proposals to improve it. The commission undertook the task on a directive from the Supreme Court, which wanted it to examine the changes needed in the statutory framework for the various tribunals that provide important judicial service. There are five tribunals - the Administrative Tribunal, the Green Tribunal,  the Income Tax Tribunal, the Customs and Excise Tribunal and the Armed Forces Tribunal. They are specialised and have domain expertise, unlike general courts. They have lightened the work of courts in their respective areas, but their potential has not been fully utilised. The commission has found that there are problems and deficiencies in their functioning. The pendency of cases is a serious problem, with arrears of 3.5 lakh cases, although the rate of disposal is high at 94%.  

The commission has suggested that the orders of the tribunals should not be directly challenged in the Supreme Court but only in the high courts. It has also said that tribunals should have benches in different parts of the country so that people of every geographical area will have easy access to them. The problems of case arrears and delays can, however, be dealt with only if the tribunals are adequately manned and procedures are shortened and simplified. Better courtroom management will help. The commission has suggested that the vacancies arising in the tribunals should be filled up by initiating the procedure well in time. This is easier said than done when hundreds of vacancies lie vacant even in ordinary courts. Even if all the vacancies in the tribunals and courts are filled up, there will still be delays because the number of judges is very low for a country of our size.  

More importantly, the commission has recommended that the independence and autonomy of the tribunals should be maintained. It is for the government to ensure this. Appointments should be impartial and there should be uniformity in the tenure, service conditions and other terms of appointment of the chairman and others at the senior level. It wants a central mechanism to monitor their functioning, too. The commission has disfavoured reappointment of the chairman and others as such a possibility might compromise the independence and fairness of tribunals. Tribunals have an important role in the country's justice delivery system and they have been described as a major pillar of the judicial system. The ideas put forward by the commission deserve serious study and the government should consider them to improve the tribunal system.  

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