What are administrative tribunals?
The term Tribunal means a seat of ‘judges or a judge’ or a ‘court of justice. Tribunals include a judicial or a quasi-judicial body. In the case of Durga Shankar Mehta v. Raghuraj Singh, the Supreme Court defined the term tribunal for the first time. The court said that ‘Tribunals’ as used in article 136 of the constitution does not mean the same thing as ‘courts’ but includes within its ambit ‘all the adjudicating bodies’ provided, they are constituted by state, vested with quasi-judicial power.
Thus, administrative tribunals are adjudicating bodies, vested with quasi-judicial power, constituted by state, statute, or any statutory authority.
Advantages of Tribunal
- The tribunals are less expensive as compared to the ordinary courts.
- Tribunals exercise quasi-judicial functions and are not courts and that therefore they are not bound to follow the procedure prescribed for trial of actions in courts nor are they bound by strict rules of evidence.
- The tribunals deliver speedy justice as there is a lot less procedure in comparison with the ordinary courts of justice.
- In civil cases, there is a lot of flexibility as compared to courts where there is a lot of complexity.
Limitations of Administrative Tribunals
- The Bench of the tribunal need not have any proper legal qualification. The administrative tribunals are put into the hands of men who are generally neither qualified lawyers, magistrates nor judges.
- There is no evidence on oath, and therefore, there can be no proper cross-examination as in a court of law. Statements are made on both sides, but the time-honored method of getting to the truth cannot be used.
- The procedure is as the tribunal shall determine. No rules have been laid down as to the procedure at a tribunal hearing. Witnesses may be heard or not heard at their pleasure.
- Lack of specified policy which in some way violates principles of natural justice.
Constitutional Recognition of Administrative Tribunals
The Indian Constitution recognizes tribunals under Articles 136 and 227. Article 136 enables the supreme court to grant special leave to any appeal from any judgment, order, the decree of tribunals. The tribunals always pass awards as it is an adjudicating body. The rewards of tribunals can be appealed in the apex court by the way of SLP. Article 227 grants power of superintendence to high courts over all the tribunals throughout the territories over which it exercises jurisdiction.
With respect to tribunals, a very important amendment was passed in 1976, i.e., the 42nd Amendment Act of 1976. This amendment is also known as the mini-constitution. Through this amendment Article 323-A and 323-B were inserted in a new part i.e., 14-A of the Constitution.
Article 323-A deals with administrative tribunals only. The article states that the parliament can establish tribunals for public service matters.
Article 323-B states that parliament and state legislatures are authorized to provide for the establishment of tribunals for adjudicating disputes relating to –
- Foreign exchange, import, and export
- Industrial and labor disputes
- Land reforms
- Ceiling on urban property
- Elections of parliament and state legislature
- Rent and tenancy rights.
The 42nd amendment made two major changes in context to tribunals-
- It took away the power of superintendence of High courts over the admin tribunals which they possessed under Article 227.
- After part 14, the amendment inserted part 14-A which included articles 323-A and 323-B, which enabled the parliament and the state legislature to constitute administrative tribunals.
After the 42nd Amendment, came the 44th Amendment in 1978 to cover the loopholes of the previous amendment. This amendment left part 14-A untouched and unchanged. A major change of made through this amendment i.e., Article 227 was amended and the jurisdiction of the High Court over all the administrative tribunals was restored back. The amendment stated that the 42nd amendment regarding this matter was incorrect and the high court has the power of superintendence.
In exercise of the power conferred by Article 323-A of the constitution, the Parliament enacted the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985. Section 28 of the Act excluded the power of judicial review exercised by the High Court in service matters under Articles 226 and 227. However, it has did not excluded the judicial review entirely inasmuch as the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under Article 136 of the Constitution was kept intact.
Sampath Kumar Case
The constitutional validity of the Act was challenged before the Supreme Court in the leading case of Sampath Kumar. The Constitution Bench upheld the validity of the Administrative Tribunals Act, 1985. The court stated that “exclusion of the jurisdiction of the High Court does not totally bar judicial review. It is possible to set up an alternative institution in place of the High Court for providing the judicial review. Thus, the Tribunal is the substitute of the High Court and is entitled to exercise the powers thereof.”
R.K. Jain v. Union of India
In R.K. Jain v. Union of India, the Supreme Court expressed anguish on working of “alternative institutional mechanisms” and their ineffectiveness in exercising the high power of judicial review. It was also noted that the sole remedy provided under Article 136 of the Constitution was ineffective and inconvenient and a suggestion was made that an expert body like the Law Commission should study the feasibility of providing an appeal to a Bench of two judges of the High Court concerned from the orders of such tribunals.
Chandra Kumar v. Union of India
In the Chandra Kumar, a divisional bench of the Supreme Court expressed the view that the decision given by the 5-judge bench in the Sampath Kumar case needed to be reconsidered. After taking into account various decisions on the point, the 7-judge bench held that the power of judicial review is a basic and essential feature of the Constitution and the jurisdiction conferred on High Courts under Articles 226 and 227 and on the Supreme Court under Article 32 of the Constitution is a part of the basic structure of the Constitution.
For securing the independence of the judiciary, the judges of superior courts have been entrusted with the power of judicial review. Though Parliament is empowered to amend the Constitution, that power cannot be exercised so as to damage the essential feature of the Constitution or to destroy its basic structure.
In this case, Section 28 of the Administrative Tribunal Act,1985. Article 323-A 2(d) and 323-B 3(d) were declared as ultra-vires and unconstitutional as they were said to destroy the basic structure of the constitution. These provisions stated that the tribunals are outside the power of judicial review. The court stated that tribunals cannot act as substitutes for the high court and supreme court. Their decision is subject to scrutiny by the division bench of respective High courts.
 1954 AIR 520
 Punnuswami vs. Returning officer Namakkal Constituency and Ors., 1952 AIR 64
 AIR 1987 SC 386
 (1993) 4 SCC 119
 (1993)4 SCC 119