Defence minister Rajnath Singh has said that the government is taking steps to further empower the armed forces tribunal (AFT) and make it more responsive.
- He was addressing the gathering at a seminar titled ‘Introspection: Armed Forces Tribunal’.
- The objective of the seminar was to analyse its working, suggest remedies for any shortcomings, and resolve the problems and difficulties faced by the litigants in the course of availing speedy justice.
- He stated that domain-specific tribunals were set up to deal with diverse cases and clear pending cases.
- He also called for a balance between ‘justice delayed is justice denied‘ and ‘justice hurried is justice buried’.
About the ‘Armed Forces Tribunal’ –
- It was established in August 2009 by the Armed Forces Tribunal Act of 2007.
- The Law Commission’s 169th report stated that disciplinary and service matters required quick resolutions and proposed a special tribunal for the military forces.
- It is a military tribunal with the power of adjudication or trial of disputes and complaints related to commission, appointments, enrolments and conditions of service.
- Besides the Principal Bench in New Delhi, AFT has 10 Regional Benches.
- The Tribunal is composed of Judicial Members as well as Administrative Members.
- The Judicial Members are retired High Court Judges.
- Administrative Members are retired Members of —
- the Armed Forces who have held rank of Major General/ equivalent or above for a period of three years or more; or
- the Judge Advocate General (JAG) who have experience in the post for at least one year.
- The Tribunal is empowered to adjudicate appeals against any order, decision, finding or sentence passed by a court-martial or any related matter.
- It is also empowered to grant bail to an accused who is in military custody.
- The Tribunal may have the powers to substitute for the findings of the court martial. It may —
- remit the whole or any part of the sentence, with or without conditions;
- mitigate the punishment awarded
- commute such punishment to any lesser punishment or enhance the sentence awarded by a court martial.
Jurisdiction of other courts –
- In March 2022, Delhi High Court held that the Armed Forces Tribunal Act, 2007 excludes the administrative supervision of the High Court under Article 227(4) of the Constitution.
- However, it does not exclude the judicial superintendence and jurisdiction under Article 226.
- In January 2020, the Supreme Court made it clear that the verdicts of the Armed Forces Tribunals (AFT) can be challenged before the high courts —
- In 2015, a Supreme Court bench had held that AFT verdicts could not be challenged before the high courts.
- It had also said that an appeal against the AFT orders would lie before the apex court but only if a point of law of general public importance is involved.