AFT not a truly Judicial Forum, rules Delhi HC
Empowers HCs to review tribunal orders Vijay Mohan
Tribune News Service, Chandigarh, April 27
In a ruling that has wide ramifications on adjudication of service disputes pertaining to the Armed Forces personnel, the Delhi High Court has ruled that the High Courts are constitutionally empowered to review decisions by the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT). The Armed Forces Tribunal Act 2007 had stipulated that appeals against AFT orders would lie directly with the Supreme Court.
“The AFT, being manned by personnel appointed by the Executive, albeit in consultation with the Chief Justice of India, cannot be said to be truly a judicial review forum as a substitute to HCs that are constitutional courts and the power of judicial review, being a basic feature of the Constitution, under Article 226 and Article 227 of the Constitution is unaffected by the constitution of the AFT,” a division bench, comprising Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Suresh Kait ruled yesterday.
“Further, Article 227(4) of the Constitution takes away only the administrative supervisory jurisdiction of the HCs over the AFT and does not impact their judicial supervisory jurisdiction. Thus, decisions by the AFT would be amenable to judicial review by HC under the Article 226 as also the Article 227 of the Constitution,” the bench further ruled.
Tribunals can perform a “supplemental as opposed to a substitutional” role vis-a-vis the HCs, the bench held. The AFT was set up to exercise an appellate jurisdiction with respect to orders, findings or sentences of court martial and exercises original jurisdiction with respect to service disputes. The purpose behind it was to provide a dedicated forum for quick redressal of grievances to the armed forces personnel as disposal of cases in the high court took a long time.
The bench held that the right to file an appeal before the SC created as mentioned in the Act meant that the right to appeal to the Supreme Court is not a matter of right, but a matter of discretion to be exercised by the AFT. Further, the discretion of the AFT is limited only to a point of law of general public importance and not every point of law that may have arisen during proceedings.
The HC’s order has also kicked up a debate in legal circles. Some lawyers say that it would be easier for litigants to file appeals against the AFT orders, as it was procedurally, psychologically, financially and physically easier and faster to approach a HC than the SC. Others are of the opinion that if appeals against the AFT orders lie with the HC, then the very purpose of setting up the Tribunal is negated as the HC would again be burdened with additional cases, besides further lengthening the judicial process and disposal time.