Monday, May 2, 2011

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.


  1. Dear Veterans,

    In our country, even the constructive, pro Armed Forces Personnel measures adopted by the Govt, after decades of debate & discussion, seems to be of no meaning. The Act promulgated for the creation of AFTs was widely welcomed, not only by the Veterans but also by the members of the Judiciary. It was supposed to render speedy justice & final verdict by the Apex Court of our Country, even on appeal against its judgement, since the jurisdiction of the High Court (HC) was cut down. Now, the HC seems to be on a war path to restore its rights of Judicial review of the verdicts of the AFTs, in addition to the SC.

    It seems the AFTs have become an added burden in seeking justice. The Govt will be at liberty to appeal against the Verdicts of AFTs to the HC, before approaching the SC, thus creating one more hurdle. The minimum time lag for implementation of any favourable judgement of the AFTs would be any where between 2 to 5 years, considering the number of cases already pending with the HCs all over our Country.

    Can the ESM Organisations jointly take up this issue to the SC, for a judicial review & final orders on the ruling of the Delhi HC ?! Otherwise, the main Aim of passing an Act of Parliament in the creation of AFTs would be lost.

    Veteran Raman

    Col (Retd) TN Raman

  2. Raman,

    Wonder how does this ruling affect the CAT judgements. Do you know? After all, the AFTs are designed with CAT Act as the model, although there are some significant deficiencies (power of civ contempt) vis - a - vis the CAT. But, is CAT outside the purview of HC review or not?

    God Bless,

    Pravesh Renjen

  3. Dear General Renjen,

    As per the constitution, I am told that all judgements pronounced by any Tribunal, are subject to the right of Judicial scrutiny by the HC. The only exemption was the AFTs, wherein the Act stated the following:-

    The Armed Forces Tribunal Act 2007 had stipulated that appeals against AFT orders would lie directly with the Supreme Court.

    It seems the basic contention of the High Court is that this exemption cannot be valid without appropriate amendment to the Constitution.

    The AFTs were sanctioned for the basic reason of the denial of justice in time, to the Personnel of Armed Forces, who due to their service conditions could not pursue the cases, directly affecting their rights, privileges & perks.

    As far as the Veterans are concerned the AFTs ensured speedy disposal of their cases, bulk of which were Pension & Disability oriented.

    This issue requires the concerted judicial effort from the Srevices HQs as well as the Veterans Organisations. The AFTs were sanctioned basically by the consistent efforts by the Services HQ, with adequate backing from the Veterans.