Dismal State of AFTs

SC Seeks Report on AFT Functioning

Fwd By Col Veeramani,core Committee member
From Vijay Mohan,Tribune News Service,Chandigarh, November 7

Taking cognizance of a letter written by the Armed Forces Tribunal Bar Association to the Chief Justice of India averring that there was “a complete breakdown” of the system of administration of justice for defence personnel and their families, the Supreme Court today issued notices to the Centre and directed the Solicitor General to file a status report. Treating the letter as a ‘Letter Petition’ and converting it into a writ petition, the SC Bench comprising Chief Justice TS Thakur, Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice L Nageswara Rao fixed November 15 as the next date of hearing. Pointing out that most of the posts of judicial members in the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) were lying vacant as fresh appointments had not been made, the letter, written in September, contended that “incoherent and disjointed” legal provisions were equally to blame for the sorry state of affairs. At present, there are only five judicial members against the authorised strength of 17, resulting in many AFT Benches across the country becoming non-functional. “Other arbitrary provisions of the AFT Act, 2007, which have not only resulted in a grave threat to administration of justice but have also placed the military community at a major disadvantage as compared to their civilian counterparts, has resulted in blockage of effective access to justice and judicial review,” the letter stated. Copies of the letter were also endorsed to the Minister of Defence and the Minister of Law and Justice. Claiming that quicker dispensation of justice through the AFT was just a myth, the Bar has averred that the biggest disappointment with the creation of the AFT is lack of any effective remedy of judicial review over its orders, thereby making it the first and the last court for litigants. While civilians get a three-tier system of justice and judicial review, military litigants, under the current provisions, cannot seek judicial review of AFT orders in the HC and can seek review in the SC only on a point of law of public importance. Unlike other tribunals that come under the law ministry, the AFT functioning under the Ministry of Defence is another issue as the entire litigation in the AFT is against the same ministry controlling it, thereby threatening judicial independence.

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