The Punjab and Haryana high court ruled on Tuesday that the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) be brought under the union ministry of law and justice, taking it out of the purview of the ministry of defence (MoD), to ensure independence in its functioning.
The court directions came on a petition by Major Navdeep Singh, founder president of the AFT Bar Association at Chandigarh, who had said that since the defence ministry had been made the parent administrative ministry of the AFT, it was "wielding all pervasive control" over the tribunal and was also the "rule-making and appointment authority not only for the staff, but also of the judicial and administrative members of the tribunal". And the petition pointed out the irony that the orders of the AFT had to be passed against the defence ministry.
In its ruling, thus, the HC said the administration of justice is a subject matter of the department of justice under the ministry of law and justice as per the Constitution's allocation of business.
As the petition also questioned the logic of having two serving bureaucrats on the selection committee examining the suitability of serving or retired HC judges to be appointed to the AFT, the court directed that after bringing the tribunal under the law and justice ministry, suitable amendments in the selection committee could also be carried out.
The bench of chief justice AK Sikri and justice Rakesh Kumar Jain said that in India, "unfortunately tribunals have not achieved full independence".
"The secretary of the concerned 'sponsoring department' sits in the selection committee for appointment. When the tribunals are formed, they are mostly dependant on their sponsoring department for funding, infrastructure and even space for functioning. The statutes constituting tribunals routinely provide for members of civil services from the sponsoring departments becoming members of the tribunal and continuing their lien with their parent cadre," the bench added.
"Unless wide-ranging reforms as were implemented in United Kingdom and as were suggested by Chandra Kumar (a Supreme Court judgment) are brought about, tribunals in India will not be considered as independent."
The court also directed that all vacancies of judicial members' posts in the Chandigarh bench of AFT be filled up in the near future.