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Supreme Court v/s Tribunals Issue – Demystified

Supreme Court struck down the National Tax Tribunal Act, on the grounds that it encroached upon the power of the judiciary and the principle of separation of powers. Here is the gist of the entire matter , all that is required for the exam.

What are Tribunals?

  • Tribunal is a body of administrative character powered with judicial and quasi judicial powers to adjudicate on question of law or fact that affects rights of citizens.
  • Sometimes they are of constitutional origin  U/A 323 A, 323 B – 42nd amendment.
  • Exempted from review by higher courts. SC only has limited rights U/A 136 (special leave petition).
  • Important tribunals are – Income tax Appellate Tribunal under Income tax act, 1961 , National Green Tribunal etc.

Why tribunals ?

  • delay in adjudication due to huge arrears of cases, thus, reduce pendency of cases .
  • need for specialized knowledge and expertise in certain domains.
  • need for uniformity in interpretation of tax laws as huge tax recovery held up in litigation.

What is the problem?

  • Non judicial appointment of CAs, CS to tribunals which are judicial posts are viewed as excessive control by the executive .
  • Increasing tribunalisiation is said to be an encroachment on judicial independence, contrary to constitutional scheme of separation of powers. This affects the basic structure.
  • SC is of the view that only higher judiciary can decide questions involving substantial law and not tribunals.
  • Speedy disposal of appeals could be hindered post the National Tax Tribunal ruling.

What could be the solution ?

  • Legislature has the power to create tribunals and vest it with adjudicatory powers but at the same time, it has to maintain identical conditions of service and independence of members of the tribunals as applicable to high court judges in deciding the disputes.
  • Technical experts can be included in advisory capacity.
  • Review policy of establishing tribunals and create balance between powers of higher judiciary and special tribunals dealing with important questions of law.



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