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Chandigarh AFT Bar joins protest for reform of Armed Forces Tribunal

Published on 16 Jun 2017 by Team

After the Bar Association of the Principal Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal at Delhi highlighted its grievances last year, lawyers of the Chandigarh Bench of the AFT have now written a letter to Chief Justice of India JS Khehar.

The primary concern raised in the letter is the non-functioning of the Chandigarh Bench given the fact that it does not have a single Judicial Member at present. Describing the situation as a serious problem for defence personnel and their families, the letter states,

“The Chandigarh Bench currently functions only for a few days every month and that too by outstation Judicial Members who hold court for those days in Chandigarh by sacrificing their own work. Even by this arrangement fresh cases cannot be listed and fresh/urgent cases filed months back are taken up for hearing by temporary outstation Judicial Members.”

The letter also highlights the inherent contradictions in the very concept of having an Armed Forces Tribunal.

“Firstly, the AFT functions under the administrative authority of the Ministry of Defence which is a litigant and the first opposite party in every case, thereby reflecting a total conflict of interest…”

The letter goes on to state,

“Secondly no proper infrastructural support is provided to the institution or its adjudicating Members. To take a recent example, the Jammu Bench of the Tribunal was inaugurated and the same has been placed inside a high security Cantonment in Jammu where there are multiple layers of security even to enter making even access to the Court a tough call for litigants…

…the Court has been kept in a makeshift cramped accommodation which is in fact a residential accommodation supposed to be allotted to an Army Officer of the rank of ‘Major’ and it is understood that even the Members of the Bench have not been provided any residential accommodation…”

Further, the letter points out the fact that the Defence Secretary is part of the selection committee which appoints members of the AFT. This, the letter states, is in contravention of the apex court’s decision in Madras Bar Association v. Union of India.

“How can the Defence Secretary be a part of the panel for selecting adjudicators who have to pass orders against him? Can a litigant select its own adjudicator or even have a say in his reappointment?”

Moreover, the letter states that there is no judicial review of AFT orders and that high courts are not allowed to be approached against its orders. It points out that Section 31 of the Armed Forces Tribunals Act, 2007 even limits the scope of review before the Supreme Court.

“Practically the AFT becomes the first and the last Court for litigants which is in sharp contrast to the Central Administrative Tribunal for civil employees and ex-employees who can easily invoke the accessible and affordable remedy of the High Court and yet still approach the Supreme Court if not satisfied.”

It also states that pendency of military-related cases has gone up since the AFT began dealing with them. The number of pending cases has increased from 9,000 to 16,000.

In September last year, the Bar of the Principal Bench shot off two letters, the second of which was addressed to then CJI TS Thakur. That letter, on which the Law Minister and the Defence Minister were also marked, enlists the various grounds which had led to the “complete breakdown of the system of administration of justice for defence personnel.”

Two months later, the Supreme Court would treat the letter as a writ petition and has since been hearing the matter.

In lieu of these facts, the Bar Association has prayed that the letter be treated as a writ petition and tagged along with the above mentioned petition.

The reliefs sought include the appointment of Judicial Members to the Chandigarh bench so as to make it functional, the immediate shifting of the AFT from the Defence Ministry to the Law Ministry, and improvement of infrastructure at all Benches.

Also prayed for is the removal of the Defence Secretary on the selection panel for appointment of members, and the early listing of a petition pending in the apex court filed to enable litigants to approach high courts in appeals to AFT orders.

News Source- Bar & Bench

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