Apart from ordinary courts there are many other dispute resolution mechanisms available for speedy delivery of justice.

Tribunals

The term ‘Tribunal’ is derived from the word ‘Tribunes’, which means ‘Magistrates of the Classical Roman Republic’. In Administrative law, the term ‘tribunal’ is used in a significant sense and refers to only the adjudicatory bodies which lie outside the sphere of the ordinary judicial system. 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.

Thus, a Tribunal is a quasi-judicial body, established under the act of Parliament or State Legislature, to adjudicate on disputes or complaints. It performs a number of functions like adjudicating disputes, determining rights between contesting parties, making an administrative decision, reviewing an existing administrative decision and so forth.

Tribunals

Origin of Administrative Tribunals

The 42nd Amendment to the Constitution introduced Part XIV-A which included Article 323A and 323B providing for constitution of tribunals dealing with administrative matters and other issues. The purpose of establishing tribunals to the exclusion of the jurisdiction of the High Courts was done to reduce the pendency and lower the burden of cases. Therefore, tribunals are organised as a part of civil and criminal court system under the supremacy of the Supreme Court of India.

From a functional point of view, an administrative tribunal is neither an exclusively judicial body nor an absolute administrative body but is somewhere between the two. That is why an administrative tribunal is also called ‘quasijudicial’ body.

Objective for the Establishment of Administrative Tribunals

  • To relieve congestion in courts or to lower the burden of cases in courts.
  • To provide for speedier disposal of disputes relating to the service matters.

Attempts at Reforming the Tribunal Framework

Three recent attempts at reforming the tribunal system have been made, these are:

  • 74th Parliamentary Standing Committee Report on the “The Tribunals, Appellate Tribunals and Other Authorities (Conditions of Service) Bill, 2014”.
  • Finance Act, 2017.
  • 272nd Law Commission of India Report on “Assessment of Statutory Frameworks of Tribunals in India”.

The Law Commission of India under the Chairmanship of Justice B.S. Chauhan, submitted its 272nd report on ‘Assessment of Statutory Frameworks of Tribunals in India’ on October 2017. Some observations of the report are:

  • Pendency in Tribunals
    • The Commission observed that the high pendency of cases in some tribunals indicates that the objective of setting them up has not been achieved.
  • Selection of Members
    • The Commission stated that the selection of members should be impartial. It suggested that the involvement of government agencies should be minimal.
    • The Commission recommended that the chairman, vice-chairman, and judicial members of tribunals should be appointed by a selection committee headed by the Chief Justice of India or a sitting judge of the Supreme Court.
  • Uniformity in Service Conditions
    • The Commission recommended that there should be uniformity in the appointment, tenure, and service conditions for the: (i) chairman, (ii) vice-chairman, and (iii) members of tribunals.
    • The chairman should hold office for three years or till the age of 70, whichever is earlier. The vice-chairman should hold office for three years or till the age of 67.
    • The function of monitoring their working should be transferred to a single nodal agency, set up under the Ministry of Law and Justice.
  • Appeal
    • The Commission recommended that appeals against a tribunal’s order should lie before a High Court only where the law establishing such a tribunal does not establish an appellate tribunal.
    • The Commission suggested that a party aggrieved by an appellate tribunal’s decision should be able to approach only the Supreme Court on grounds of public or national importance.
  • Benches of Tribunals
    • Tribunals should have benches in different parts of the country to ensure access to justice by people across geographical areas. These benches should be located where High Courts are situated.

Overall the Recommendations of Various Reports are Summarized as:

  • The Tribunals framework can operate under an independent statutory body, provisionally called the National Tribunals Commission (NTC).
  • The existing 37 central tribunals can be merged into nine distinct subject-matter divisions.
  • The NTC can be set up by a statute of Parliament and operate through a Board that comprises sitting judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts, executive members nominated by central government and a senior advocate.
  • The senior-most Supreme Court judge will be the de facto Chairperson of the Board.
  • The NTC will appoint a Chief Executive Officer who will implement the decisions of the Board and manage the day-to-day functioning. The tenure of NTC members will be for three-years with no reappointment to ensure a dynamic and impartial body.
  • There will be no direct appeal to the Supreme Court from a tribunal. Statutory appeals to High Courts can be allowed for cases that involve substantial questions of law.
  • To ensure operational coherence, there will be uniform service conditions:
    • Appointment of Members
      • Board should appoint a selection committee; or
      • Call for applications via open advertisements; or
      • Hold an All-India Entrance Examination for Tribunals (AIEET)
    • Qualifications of Members
      • Qualifications of chairperson should be uniform across all tribunals:
      • Technical members should have a minimum of 15 years domain expertise.
      • Retired persons and members of the Indian Legal Services, Revenue Services etc. and bureaucrats should not be eligible to be appointed as judicial members.
    • Reappointment
      • There should be a bar on reappointment of tribunal members.
    • Tenure
      • There should be a tenure of 5-7 years; or a retirement age of 62-65 years whichever is earlier (depending on mode of appointment).
    • Vacancy
      • Vacancies arising in tribunals should be filled up within 6 months prior to the occurrence of a vacancy.
    • Salaries and other allowance
      • Salaries and other allowances should be uniform across all tribunals.
    • Removal of Members
      • The removal procedure should be uniform with a time bound inquiry carried out by a judge from the higher judiciary.

What is the Difference Between Tribunal and Court?

  • Administrative Tribunals and Ordinary Courts both deal with the disputes between the parties which affects the rights of the subjects.
  • Administrative Tribunal is not a court. Some notable differences between a court and Administrative Tribunal are as follows –
No.Court of LawTribunal
1.A court of law is a part of the traditional judicial system whereby judicial powers are derived from the state.An Administrative Tribunal is an agency created by the statute and invested with judicial power.
2.The Civil Courts have judicial power to try all suits of a civil nature unless the cognizance is expressly or impliedly barred.Tribunal is also known as the Quasi-judicial body. Tribunals have the power to try cases of special matter which are conferred on them by statutes
3.Judges of the ordinary courts of law are independent of the executive in respect of their tenure, terms and conditions of service etc. Judiciary is independent of ExecutiveTenure, terms and conditions of the services of the members of Administrative Tribunal are entirely in the hands of Executive (government).
4.The presiding officer of the court of law is trained in law.The president or a member of the Tribunal may not be trained as well in law. He may be an expert in the field of Administrative matters.
5.A judge of a court of law must be impartial who is not interested in the matter directly or indirectly.An Administrative Tribunal may be a party to the dispute to be decided by it.
6.A court of law is bound by all the rules of evidence and procedure.An Administrative Tribunal is not bound by rules but bound by the principles of nature of Justice.
7.Court must decide all questions objectively on the basis of evidence and materials on record.Administrative Tribunal may decide questions by taking into account departmental policy, the decision of Administrative Tribunal may be subjective rather than objective.
8.A court of law can decide vires of a legislationAdministrative Tribunal cannot do so

Fast Track Courts

The Fast Track Courts (FTCs) were established in Indian in the year 2000 with an aim to clear the long pending Sessions and other lower judicial cases. According to estimates, more than 3 crore cases are pending across all the courts in the country.

  • A total of 1734 FTCs were approved in 2000 following the report of the 11th Finance Commission. Out of this, only 1562 were functional by 2005, the year when this experimental scheme was supposed to end. The central government in 2005, decided to continue its support for the 1562 functional FTCs for the next 6 years (till 2011).
  • The December 16, 2012, gang-rape and subsequent death of a young physiotherapy student gave fast track courts a new lease of life. The central government extended the deadline to March 2015. An order was passed to set up six fast-track courts in Delhi that will deal exclusively with cases of sexual assault.
  • The performance of these courts varied widely across states. The all-India average of cases disposed per month by a FTC was 15.

Need for Fast Track Courts

  • Aimed at clearing the considerable amount of pending cases: The main motive behind the establishment of fast track courts was to solve the enormous amount of pending cases and to reduce some burden off district and high courts. Another motive was to give proper attention and time to sexual assault cases.
  • Expected to reduce the number of under trials in jails: India has one of the largest number of people in prison awaiting their trial or going through their trials and this number keeps increasing everyday as new cases emerge and new accused are imprisoned. To reduce this number fast track courts are needed in the country.
  • Need for speedy trial: In a country where thousands of crimes take place every day it is very important to provide speedy trial and justice. Speedy trial also being a constitutional right has yet to see its goals achieved and for the same, fast tracks courts are required.
  • Judiciary’s commitment to end sexual and gender based violence: Fast track courts work to provide speedy and accurate justice to gender and sexual violence victims. It proves that the judiciary is committed towards ending sexual and gender based violence.

Advantages of Fast Track Courts

  • Lessening of the general case load burden: The objective with which the fast track courts were established has been very beneficiary for judiciary as it has solved over a million cases and has reduced the case load from other courts. It has a high case clearance rate and speedy trial rate.
  • Promotes specialization and professionalization: It has helped employ thousands of people from different fields, it also avails retired judges from high courts and district courts. The establishment of fast track courts has promoted the specialization of a category of law.
  • Improves judicial efficiency and effectiveness: By the proper use of judiciary and by speedy trial and judgment, fast track courts boost the efficiency of the judiciary.
  • Guarantees consistency and predictability: Fast track courts have high performance rate and are stable and steady. It renders justice with high accuracy.

Disadvantages of Fast Track Courts

  • Fast track courts does not do full justice in some cases: Courts take time to render justice because they examine each and every aspect thoroughly. But in case of fast track courts some cases are disposed of without proper examination of evidence and many people are wrongly convicted in the name of speedy trial.
  • Tampered subject matter and lowers professionalism of Judges: Since fast track courts deal with only one category of law it lowers the ability of judges to deal with other cases coming under different laws.

Conclusion

  • Fast track courts have proved out to be very beneficial and have helped solve millions of cases. In a time like this, India needs fast track courts in order to curb sexual and gender violence along with other cases.

Gram Nyayalaya

The Law Commission of India in its 114th report recommended the establishment of Gram Nyayalayas for providing speedy, substantial and inexpensive justice. Subsequently, the Parliament of India passed the Gram Nyayalayas Act, 2008 providing for its establishment.

The Gram Nyayalaya Act 2008 has been enacted to establish Gram Nyayalayas at the grass root level for the purpose of providing access to justice to the citizens at their door steps and to ensure that opportunities for securing justice are not denied to any citizen by means of social, economic or other disabilities.

  • The Act also makes the judicial process participatory and decentralised because it allows appointment of local social activists and lawyers as mediators/ reconciliators. To make the judiciary responsive to local socio-economic situation, it prescribes representation from scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
  • There is also a provision of setting up mobile courts at the panchayat level. As per the Act, gram nyayalayas can hear both criminal and civil cases and appeals in civil cases will have to be disposed of in six months.
  • Establishing courts at each one of the 260,000 gram panchayats would involve huge expenditure by state governments. Therefore, it was decided that gram nyayalayas would have jurisdiction over more than one panchayat. Still finance is the main stumbling block because no state wants to burden its exchequer
  • Apart from finance and political will, lack of coordination between high courts and state governments has also delayed setting up of gram nyayalaya.

Composition

  • They are presided over by a Nyayadhikari, appointed by the State Government in consultation with the High court , who will have the same power, enjoy same salary and benefits of a Judicial Magistrate of First Class. 
  • Such Nyayadhikari are to be appointed by the State Government in consultation with the respective High Court.
  • It shall be established for every Panchayat at the intermediate level or a group of contiguous Panchayats at the intermediate level in a district.

Jurisdiction of Gram Nyayalaya

  • Section 3(1) of the Act, it is for the State Governments to establish Gram Nyayalayas in consultation with the respective High Courts.
  • A Gram Nyayalaya have jurisdiction over an area specified by a notification by the State Government in consultation with the respective High Court.
  • The Act authorizes the Gram Nyayalaya to hold mobile court outside its headquarters.
  • They have both civil and criminal jurisdiction over the offences.
  • Gram Nyayalayas has been given power to accept certain evidences which would otherwise not be acceptable under Indian Evidence Act.

Issues in Gram Nyayalaya

  • Lack of enforcement  : The Act mandated setting up of 5,000 village courts . But only 172 have been set up. Of these, 152 are functional. Only nine states have notified gram nyayalayas and of these nine states, only four have functional courts. It shows lack of enforcement of act.
    • The major reason behind the non-enforcement includes financial constraints, reluctance of lawyers, police officials and other State functionaries to invoke jurisdiction of Gram Nyayalayas.
  • Location issues : They are generally located at cities and towns which doesn’t provide any utility to villagers.
  • Financial constraints : Establishing courts at each one of the 260,000 gram panchayats would involve huge expenditure by state governments. Therefore, it was decided that gram nyayalayas would have jurisdiction over more than one panchayat. That is how the Centre decided to set up 5,000 gram nyayalayas. Still finance is the main stumbling block. 
  • Lack of infrastructure : 
    • Like buildings, office spaces and related equipment
    • Lack of man-power resources, notaries, stamp vendors etc. at sub-district level
  • Ill-defined jurisdiction :
    • There is ambiguity and confusion regarding the specific jurisdiction of Gram Nyayalayas, due to the existence of alternative forums such as labour courts, family courts, etc.
  • Negligible dispensation of cases :  The number of cases disposed by Gram Nyayalayas is negligible and that they do not make any substantial difference in the overall pendency in the subordinate courts.
Gram Nyayalayas

Parivarik Mahila Lok Adalat

The National Commission for Women (NCW) has evolved the concept of Parivarik Mahila Lok Adalat, which in turn supplements the efforts of the District Legal Service Authority (DLSA) for redressal and speedy disposal of the matters pending in various courts related to marriage and family affairs.

Objectives of Parivarik Mahila Lok Adalat:

  • To provide speedy and cost free dispensation of justice to women.
  • To generate awareness among the public regarding conciliatory mode of dispute settlement.
  • To gear up the process of organizing the Lok Adalats and to encourage the public to settle their disputes outside the formal set-up.
  • To empower public especially women to participate in justice delivery mechanism.

The Parivarik Mahila Lok Adalat functions on the model of the Lok Adalat. The Commission provides financial assistance to NGOs or State Women Commissions or State Legal Service Authority to organize the Parivarik Mahila Lok Adalat.

The following type of matters can be brought before the PMLA:

  • All civil cases
  • Matrimonial disputes including divorce, maintenance
  • (of wife, parents, children etc.)
  • Compoundable Criminal cases
  • Disputes related to Labour Laws
  • Motor Accident Claims
  • Bigamy

Family Courts

The Family Courts Act, 1984 provides for establishment of Family Courts by the State Governments in consultation with the High Courts with a view to promote conciliation and secure speedy settlement of disputes relating to marriage, family affairs and matters connected therewith.

Under Section 3(1)(a) of the Family Courts Act, it is mandatory for the State Government to set up a Family Court for every area in the State comprising a city or a town whose population exceeds one million. In other areas of the States, the Family Courts may be set up if the State Governments deems it necessary.

The main objectives and reasons for setting up of Family Courts are:

  • To create a Specialized Court which will exclusively deal with family matters so that, such a court may have the necessary expertise to deal with these cases expeditiously. Thus, expertise and expedition are two main factors for establishing such a court;
  • To institute a mechanism for conciliation of the disputes relating to family;
  • To provide an inexpensive remedy; and
  • To have flexibility and an informal atmosphere in the conduct of proceedings.

As per the reports received from the State Governments, 694 Family Courts are functional in the country as on October 2022.


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