Home arrow Archives arrow Defence Notes arrow Defence Notes 2008 arrow Armed Forces Tribunal:MILITARY JUSTICE FINALLY IN PLACE, by Col (Dr). P. K. Vasudeva (Retd),28 July
News and Features
INFA Digest
Parliament Spotlight
Journalism Awards
Armed Forces Tribunal:MILITARY JUSTICE FINALLY IN PLACE, by Col (Dr). P. K. Vasudeva (Retd),28 July Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 28 July 2008

Armed Forces Tribunal


By Col (Dr). P. K. Vasudeva (Retd)

The Union Cabinet has finally cleared 31 top-level posts for an independent Armed Forces Tribunal, which is to hear the grievances of the Armed forces personnel. This is a major step taken towards the much-needed reform of the military judicial system. For long, the jawans and officers have been deprived of speedy redressal of grievances, thanks to overburdened high courts and the Supreme Court.

Full credit, of course should go to Defence Minister AK Antony, for his commitment as the demand has been hanging fire for over two decades. Soon, the Armed forces should feel confident that their grievances against court martial verdicts, supersession in promotions and other irregularities will be taken care of and that too hopefully faster.

The parent legislation, which came into affect this mid-June, had secured parliamentary approval after a protracted process during the winter session, and the Presidential assent on Christmas Day.  The Tribunal will have a chairperson and 29 members at its principal bench in New Delhi and eight regional benches in Chandigarh, Lucknow, Jaipur, Kolkata, Mumbai, Guwahati, Chennai and Kochi. The Chandigarh Bench will have jurisdiction over Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir.

Once the Tribunal starts functioning, it will not only take up fresh cases but will  adjudicate over 9,800 cases of Armed forces personnel relating to court martial and other service matters pending in various high courts and the Supreme Court. Significantly, the paramilitary forces will also be brought under the control of the Tribunal, about which, however, some Service as well as police and paramilitary officers aren’t too happy. They feel that the Tribunal members would, in all probability, be biased and that this would impact the adjudication of justice to paramilitary personnel.

It has not taken long for the Cabinet to follow-up on Defence minister Antony’s anxiety to give defence personnel their due. With the benches and their “physical” jurisdiction clearly defined, aggrieved personnel ought to find it comparatively easy to seek redress in matters of appointment, promotions or appeal against court martial verdicts. Hopefully, not only should the adjudication process be expeditious, but at the same time affordable.

The issue of a separate tribunal for the Armed forces had been hanging fire for over two decades. In 1982, the Supreme Court had suggested an independent tribunal after pointing out several deficiencies in the existing Acts in the three Services. It specifically pointed out the absence of remedy of appeal against the orders of court martial and ruled that these court martial must record reasons in support of their orders and inferences. The Supreme Court gave its opinion after it had heard a number of super-session and court martial cases. Subsequently, the Law Commission, in its 169th report, recommended a separate Tribunal for prompt disposal of cases challenging such decisions in the Services.

Unfortunately, the present grievance redressal machinery in the three Services is faulty, psychologically-biased with the odds heavily stacked against the complainants! Moreover, undue delay in adjudication of cases causes stress, hardship, anxiety and misery to the aggrieved soldier. This is one of the causes, which has led to the recent rise in cases of either the jawans committing suicide or attacking their superiors.

Regrettably, even though a jawan can go up to the Services Chief for justice, he fails to get fair treatment at the hands of his immediate boss, who in fact processes the complaint. Worse, the complainant is neither informed about the fate of his petition nor apprised of his superior authority’s comments. Sadly, there is no independent judicial forum to review the executive decision of the officers in the command ladder.

Let us hope that there will be no delay in selecting/appointing the key judicial and Service personnel, their support staff and other nitty-gritty infrastructure requirement as the Tribunal has already been delayed by almost 20 years and a large number of defence personnel have suffered due to infirmities which exist at the decision-making authorities’ levels. The new tribunal is expected to fix accountability and ensure greater discipline among the officers and, above all, enhance the morale of the defence personnel.

The mix of judicial and defence members of the Tribunal ought to provide the right balance, and hopefully not dilute (an apprehension of some top officers) the military’s critical discipline and ethos. The mix would also save the Judge Advocate-General’s branch from having to function in High Courts across the country, often having to enlighten the judges that different criteria should apply in a military system.

Since there will be a singular focus to the Tribunal, and desirably a uniform bottom-line to the verdicts, a revised and appropriate judicial code could develop. Those involved insist that the present system of military justice is not draconian though highly disciplined, the Tribunal would serve as the cushioning appellate authority, and the deemed-stigma of approaching a civil court would be averted. The appellate authority should lie with the apex court against the Tribunal’s decision and not with the High Courts.

But, for those senior officers whose concept of discipline has never graduated above the parade ground, the movement towards making the Tribunal a reality will be highly appreciated. Alas, even as the minister merits applause on this score, there can be no suppressing a negative sentiment: there must be some awful shortcomings in the armed forces’ functioning with 9,800 cases being taken to the High Courts.---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

< Previous   Next >
  Mambo powered by Best-IT