This article is written by Harpreet Kaur of 7th Semester University Institute of Legal Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh
Salus populi Est suprema lex is a legal maxim that directly translates to mean ‘let the welfare of the people be the supreme law.’ It is on this maxim upon which the concept of administrative adjudication is based. Adjudication, in general terms, refers to the act of interpreting and applying the law of the land to effectuate the delivery of justice. In the modern welfare state, a major chunk of adjudication is excluded from the purview of the ordinary courts. This section of adjudication is in turn, entrusted to the quasi-judicial bodies known as ‘tribunals.’ Adjudication therein, in a similar fashion to the ordinary courts, is based on accepted legal principles and stems from the jural postulates. Administrative adjudication is well-rooted in the principle, “When liberty is subtracted, justice has to be added.” The philosophy of gradual socialisation of law has been a major factor in bringing about the increasing role of administrative adjudication in today’s society. It seeks to ensure social security and social welfare for the public at large. It is bestowed with the duty of regulating industrial relations and maintaining a degree of control over production activities in a particular society. These bodies do not, however, interject in the matters concerning socio-economic policies of the nations. These policies and their subject matter are exclusively within the working sphere of the ordinary law courts. This form of adjudication has been developed primarily, to dispose of specific matters expeditiously. Thus, administrative tribunals are set up to decide various quasi-judicial issues in place of ordinary courts of law. The Constitution of India expressly recognises these tribunals.
Keywords: Adjudication, Administrative Tribunal, Administration, Labour Court, Tribunal, Jurisdiction, Objectives, Central Tribunal, National Tribunal, Labour Disputes, Industrial Tribunal, Industrial Disputes Act, 1947
Objectives: This article has been formulated to look into the concept of adjudication, the administrative aspects of adjudication, the definitions of adjudication, administrative adjudication, tribunal, and administrative tribunal, to understand the meaning and working of these tribunals, the reasons for their growth and their rules of procedure. Further, the concept of a national tribunal for Industrial Disputes i.e., the National Labour Court is also discussed.
– ‘Adjudication’ Definition
Adjudication may be defined as the act of holistically considering a judicial or legal matter, and forming, and delivering a formal opinion or judgment after such consideration, which is often final.
– ‘Administrative Adjudication’ Definition
Administrative adjudication is a by-product of an extensive form of government and the ‘consequential socialisation of law’. Prof. White defines it as “Administrative adjudication means the investigation and settling of a dispute involving a private party on the basis of a law and fact by an administrative agency.”
– ‘Tribunal’ Definition
Dr J. J. R. Upadhyaya says “Tribunal is an administrative body which exercises the power to adjudicate. In the Franks committee report, Tribunals are not regarded as ordinary courts. The view of the committee is that the tribunals should be regarded “as machinery provided by the national Legislature for adjudication rather than as part of the machinery of administration.
– ‘Administrative Tribunal’ Definition
In administrative law, administrative tribunals are of great significance as they include adjudicating bodies, outside the scope of the ordinary judicial system. In the Indian scenario, the term ‘tribunal’ or ‘administrative tribunal’ has not been defined under the Constitution. The position of an administrative tribunal, in practice however, is taken to be somewhere between a government department and a law court.
S.N. Jain interprets the meaning of administrative tribunals as,
i) All administrative bodies exercising quasi-judicial functions, whether a part and parcel of the department or otherwise.
ii) All such bodies which are not under the control of the department involved in the dispute and therefore, decide disputes as a judge free from any departmental bias.
iii) Under Article 136 of the constitution, the administrative tribunals must exercise the ‘inherent judicial powers of the state.’
In Durga Shanker Mehta v. Raghuraj Singh, the Hon’ble apex court has defined ‘Tribunal’ in a comprehensive manner, in the following words,
“The expression ‘Tribunal’ as used in Article 136 does not mean the same thing as ‘Court’, but includes within its ambit, all adjudicating bodies, provided, they are constituted by the state and are invested with judicial as distinguished from administrative or executive functions.”
Growth of Administrative Tribunals
The 42nd Constitutional Amendment, also known as The Constitution Act of 1976, introduced Part XIV-A to the constitution, adding to it Articles 323A and 323B providing for the establishment along with the procedure for establishment of tribunals dealing with service matters and other matters of quasi-judicial concern.
In keeping with these provisions of the constitution, these tribunals are to be established and organised in such a manner as to not, in any manner whatsoever, violate the integrity of the judiciary, and thereby violate the basic structure of the constitution which provides for a general separation of powers of the organs of the government i.e., the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive.
The abovementioned provisions were enacted, primarily, to exclude the jurisdiction of the High Courts under Articles 226 and 227 from certain specific matters, but to retain the powers of the Supreme Court under Article 136 to act as an institutional authority for certain matters of judicial importance.
Purpose of Administrative Tribunals/Reasons for their Growth:
- Policy Considerations
- Inadequacy of the judicial system
- Merits of the system of Administrative Adjudication
- Functional Approach to Socio-economic Problems
- Expertise levels
- Provisions for Preventive Measures
- Policing of Preventive Measures
- Expeditious Functioning of Tribunals
Characteristics of a Tribunal:
In Bharat Bank Ltd. V. Employees, while deciding the question of whether or not, an Industrial Tribunal established under the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 is a ‘Tribunal’ within the meaning of Article 136, the Supreme Court laid down certain comprehensive characteristics that a tribunal should have, to be included under Article 136. These were as follows:
- A plaint must be made before it to initiate the proceedings of the matter at hand,
- It has identical powers to a civil court as regards the discovery, inspection, and taking of evidence,
- As in any other court of law, the witnesses are examined and cross-examined,
- A party may be represented by a pleader i.e., a legal practitioner,
- The tribunal is guided by the provisions of the statute and must decide the case based on such provisions in relation to the evidence brought forth, and
- Members of the tribunal are persons qualified to be judges.
Further characteristics have been added in the following cases,
–Jaswant Sugar Mills v. Lakshmi Chand, “It is required to sit in public, and it must have the power and capability to give a concrete judgment affecting the rights and obligations of the parties.”
–Engineering Mazdoor Sabha v. Hind Cycles Ltd., “It must be endowed with the State’s inherent judicial power, meaning thereby that it must have a statutory origin.”
Procedure of Administrative Tribunals
- General Procedure: An Administrative Tribunal in truth, is not a court of law. Therefore, they are not bound to adhere to each and every minute rule of evidence and procedure in the same fashion that a court of law is bound. However, merely by virtue of being a partly administrative body, it cannot work arbitrarily by disregarding all judicial principles of adjudication. It is still, in substance bound to adhere to principles of natural justice. Two of the major principles which bind an administrative tribunal are the Right to a fair hearing (Audi alteram partem) and the Right against bias (Nemo judex in causa sua).
- Widely differing procedures- Demerits of Tribunal System: The administrative tribunals in India, have varying procedural rules according to their varying functions. Oftentimes, the tribunal is left free to decide upon its own rules of procedure. Some tribunals are endowed with the powers of a Civil Court in matters of compelling attendance of witnesses and production of documents. However, at times, loopholes are found in these rules to allow misuse and arbitrariness. It is the need of the hour that a minimum standard of working of these tribunals must be laid down.
Industrial Tribunal (Labour Court)
Industrial Tribunals, also known as labour courts, have been established under the Industrial Disputes Act, of 1947 which has proved to be one of the landmark pieces of legislation of Independent India concerning the field of labour management relations. It is established by the central government if an Industrial Dispute is concerning the Central Government. If there is no such central interest involved, the tribunal can be set up by any appropriate government.
The tribunal may be composed of one or more members. The members may be appointed by the central government or any other appropriate government as the case may be. When the tribunal consists of two or more members, one of these members is to be the chairman of such tribunal. The chairman must possess certain judicial qualifications. These are:
- He is or has been a judge of a High Court,
- He is or has been a District Judge, or
- Such a person is qualified to be appointed as the judge of a High Court.
Other members of the tribunals must possess the qualifications as the appropriate government may, from time to time prescribe. Each member of the tribunal is deemed to be a ‘public servant’ within the meaning of Section 21 of The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (45 of 1860).
When there is an industrial dispute concerning any Banking or Insurance company referred to the tribunal, one of the members of such tribunal, must possess, in the opinion of the appropriate government, special knowledge of Banking or Insurance matters, as the case may be.
Such a tribunal established in keeping with the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act, of 1947 exercises jurisdiction extending to any Industrial Dispute such as disputes
- Between the employers and their workmen, or
- Between a workman and another workman connected with the
- Employment, or
- Non-employment, or
- The terms of employment, or
- The conditions of labour of any employee.
The Industrial Disputes Act, of 1947 lays down the rules and procedure to regulate and organise the working of the tribunals set up under it. The tribunals are ‘quasi-judicial’ bodies. Thus, they are also subject to judicial principles of functioning. It has to act judicially i.e.; it has some distinct properties of a law court.
The tribunal is endowed with the powers of a civil court as regards enforcing the attendance of any person, their examination on oath, compelling production of documents, issuing process for examination of witnesses and such inquiry and investigation shall be deemed to be judicial proceedings within the meaning of Sections 193 and 228 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (45 of 1860).
It has to hold its hearings in public i.e., open court proceedings, and it must also follow fair procedures of notice and hearing.
The primary function of the tribunal is to prevent unfair labour practices and victimisation and further, to restore peace by ensuring the statutory principle of collective bargaining. (Lloyd’s Bank Ltd. V. Staff Association)
The object of the labour court is to secure justice on a broad level, it is not bound by the restrictions and technical procedural considerations imposed on ordinary law courts. Its work is to be based on the principles of fairness and natural justice. It is not burdened by the technicalities of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, or the Civil Procedure Code, 1908. However, the legal principles laid down by the Industrial Disputes Act and other statutory provisions applicable to a particular case cannot be ignored. These are to be adhered to and sufficiently complied with.
“Social Justice divorced from the legal principles applicable to the case in hand is not permissible.” (J.K. Iron and Steel Co. v. Mazdoor Union)
The awards of the tribunals are to be published in the Government Gazette. The award becomes final on such publication and cannot ordinarily be refuted. It is to be signed by the member(s) of the tribunal. If there is more than one member, all the members must sign the award. In case of non-compliance with the abovementioned condition, the award is illegal and inoperative as such. (Lloyd’s Bank Ltd. V. Staff Association)
- Judicial Control:
The decisions and the awards of these tribunals established under the act are subject to the writ jurisdiction of the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution. The tribunal itself is under the supervisory jurisdiction of the High Court as provided under Article 227 of the Constitution. Under Article 136, the constitution vests the apex court with the discretion to entertain appeals against the orders of the tribunal by granting special leave. The supreme court, however, is very cautious in interfering with the working of the tribunals. It intervenes only in exceptional cases of miscarriage of justice. (Bharat Bank Ltd. V. Employees)
- Central Government Industrial Tribunal-cum-Labour Courts (CGIT-cum-LCs) are established under the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act, of 1947 for the adjudication of industrial disputes of central concern. CGIT-cum-LCs are presided over by Presiding Officers who are selected from a selection frame of High Court Judges (serving/retired) or District/Additional District Judges (serving/retired).
- The CGIT-cum-LCs have been established to maintain peace and harmony in the industrial sector by the expeditious disposal of industrial disputes through adjudication so that industrial growth is not hampered on account of any central-level industrial unrest. Moreover, due to increasing awareness about their rights and Labour laws among the workers, there is a gradual increase in the number of cases being filed under the Industrial Disputes Act before the CGIT-cum-LCs. Reorganisation of the workforce on account of the latest technology in Indian industries has also, in turn, led to retrenchment, declaration of surplus, etc. which has further increased workers’ grievances.
- The 22 CGIT-cum-LCs have been situated in various states.
The Courts of Law are the primary law interpreters, and major stakeholders in the justice delivery system. However, due to specific and streamlined requirements, additional quasi-judicial bodies become essential. Thus, under Articles 323A and 323B of the Constitution of India, Administrative tribunals have been set up at State and Central levels. These include tribunals such as the Claims Tribunals, National Green Tribunal, Company Law Tribunal, Industrial Tribunal, etc. Out of these, the Industrial Tribunal, also known as the Labour Court is of huge importance, for the current subject matter, as it deals with disputes between the employer and the employees, or between two employees in relation to the terms of service, or in relation to the terms of labour of any person. Its awards and decisions are to be published, and are subject to the supervisory jurisdiction of the respective High Courts.
- ‘Administrative Tribunals in India’ https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-4249-administrative-tribunals-in-india.html Retrieved: 06.06.2023
- ‘Reference of disputes to Boards, Courts, or Tribunals’ https://www.indiacode.nic.in/show-data?actid=AC_CEN_6_6_00039_194714_1517807328510§ionId=24324§ionno=10&orderno=18 Retrieved: 07.06.2023
- ‘Central Government Industrial Tribunal cum Labour Courts’ https://labour.gov.in/industrialrelations/central-govt-industrial-tribunal-cum-labour-courts Retrieved: 09.06.2023
- ‘Important Institutions: Tribunals’ https://www.drishtiias.com/important-institutions/drishti-specials-important-institutions-national-institutions/tribunals-1 Retrieved: 08.06.2023
- Dr. Upadhyaya, “Administrative Law,” Reprint of Eleventh Edition, 2019, Central Law Agency
 AIR 1954 SC 520
 AIR 1950 SC 188
 AIR 1963 SC 677
 AIR 1963 SC 874
 AIR 1956 SC 746
 AIR 1956 SC 231
 AIR 1956 SC 231
 AIR 1950 SC 188
 ‘Central Government Industrial Tribunal cum Labour Courts’ available at https://labour.gov.in/industrialrelations/central-govt-industrial-tribunal-cum-labour-courts retrieved on 09.06.2023