Monday, April 7, 2014

Administrative Tribunals

The reasons of growth of administrative law as a separate branch of law have also necessitated that a proper system of administrative adjudication should be in place. As the government assumes more and more responsibilities to discharge in the modern state there are chances that more grievance would arise on behalf of citizens. The quick, timely and effective resolution of these conflicts is necessary as it helps in checking the administrative powers of executive. Administration today performs some quasi-judicial functions also. These quasi judicial functions are performed by the administrative tribunals.


We have already seen that legislature is not able to do all the work which has been entrusted to it all by itself. It frequently resorts to the practice of delegated legislation. Similarly the judiciary, in the context of rising responsibilities of the state, is not able to
cope up with the pressure of work load. Again for help the administrative agencies are looked at for performing functions like deciding claims and disputes. As administrative bodies perform these functions hence they are called as quasi judicial functions.

Administrative adjudication covers all such functions. Such disputes may be either between a private party & government or between two private parties. White defines administrative adjudication as “investigation and settling of a dispute involving a private party on the basis of law & facts by an administrative agency”. Prof Dimock defines administrative adjudication as “the process by which administrative agencies settle issues arising in the course of their work when legal rights are in question”. The latter definition emphasises that for quasi judicial functions it is not necessary that a dispute should exist. A broader definition of administrative adjudication would indicate that it requires determination by administrative agencies of issues or cases involving the rights or obligations of private parties.

The various agencies involved in the process of administrative adjudication could be:

  • Administrative TribunalsMinister

  • Ministerial Tribunal

  • Head of the Department

  • A Special Committee or

  • Single Member Tribunal Commission

  • Composite Tribunal

  • Specialised Courts of Law

However in modem times administrative courts have acquired great importance as mechanisms of administrative adjudication. Quasi judicial functions are now by & large performed by the administrative tribunals. Administrative Tribunals could be defined as “authorities outside the court system which interpret and apply the laws when acts of public administration are attacked in formal suits or by other established methods". Tribunals manage a proper relationship between the individual and the public authority. Responsibilities of a modern government and the freedom of a citizen are to be reconciled. They provide public good oriented justice involving new concepts of social rights as against the belief in the extreme individualistic rights so far guarded by the law courts.

Reasons for Growth of Administrative Tribunals

There are following reasons for the growth of administrative tribunals across the world :

  1. Due to the increasing complexity of the modern industrialized and urbanized society active intervention of state is required. A large number of laws are required to handle the functions of the government. Hence there is a need for administrative tribunals for taking care of legal requirements of government actions.

  2. The traditional courts of law are quite expensive and time consuming. So there is a need to devise cheap and quick adjudication system.

  3. The activities of government are increasingly becoming technical in nature. Adjudication of matters related to these activities requires specialised knowledge. This element was brought in administrative tribunals by combining judicial expertise with specialised knowledge.

  4. It was felt that administrative justice should take care of the changing social and economic realities of the country. The interest of the individual has to be reconciled with that of the society as a whole. Many a times the individual interest has to be sub-ordinated to the general interest. This kind of social orientation of justice was not possible in the traditional justice system.

  5. Aggressive enforcement of the social policy has to be pursued in accordance with the acts of legislature. Traditional courts cannot take initiatives on their own. But the administrative tribunals can even undertake investigative functions and punish the violation of law.

Types of Administrative Tribunals

There are different systems of administrative tribunals that have emerged in different countries. Some of the systems are described below:

1. Anglo-Saxon System

  • Administrative Tribunals are not organised into a system.

  • A Department of the Government often performs the administrative judicial functions

  • Regulatory, administrative and judicial functions are often concentrated in one agency

  • The civil servants manning the tribunals usually do not have any judicial training and experience

  • There is no definite hierarchy of administrative tribunals

  • No particular procedure is prescribed for being followed in these tribunals

  • Appeals against their decisions lie to the ordinary courts of law 2. Continental System

  • Administrative Tribunals are organised into a definite system

  • There is a well defined hierarchy in respect of appeals

  • The tribunals are generally separated from administration

  • Tribunals follow a well defined procedure

  • The decisions of highest tribunals are final i. e. they are comparatively free from the control of ordinary courts

  • Trained judges and experienced administrators man these tribunals. Security of tenure is provided to them.

2. USA System

There are four kinds of administrative tribunals in USA. These are :

  • Independent Administrative Courts - The members are called judges. They perform only adjudicatory work and do not perform any administrative functions. The procedures of these tribunals resemble that of the courts of law. Examples are USA Customs Court, Court of Claims etc.

  • Special Administrative Courts - They are integral parts of some administrative unit. Their members are not called judges. They also have only adjudicatory functions and no administrative functions. Example is Board of Appeal in Patent Office in USA.

  • Regulatory Bodies - These commissions have various powers like quasi legislative powers, administrative and adjudicatory powers etc. Their members are not called judges and are appointed by the President for a fixed term. These bodies are independent of executive control. Examples are Inter-State Commerce Commission, Federal Trade Commission etc.

  • Licensing Authorities - Various licensing authorities like Bureau of Marine Inspections & Navigation, Civil Aeronautics Authority etc also exist in USA. Sometimes the Heads of Departments are also given adjudicatory powers e. g. Secretary Agriculture. However the tendency in USA is to have independent administrative tribunals to perform the adjudicatory functions.

3. Indian System

The development of administrative tribunals in India has been on the pattern of that in UK but due to economic under-development the number of tribunals has not been as large as in UK. Some of the administrative tribunals which have been set up to perform the adjudicatory functions are Income Tax Appellate Tribunal, Labour and Industrial Courts, Labour Appellate Tribunal etc. Some of the Government Departments or officers have also been entrusted to perform the adjudicatory functions.

Advantages of Administrative Tribunals

The mechanism of administrative tribunals offers a number of advantages. Some of them are:

  1. The main advantage of administrative tribunals is that they provide cheap justice to the citizens. There is no court fee and lawyers are not permitted in many cases so their fees can also be saved.

  2. They provide speedy justice to the citizens. It is because their procedures are far simpler than the law courts. They can avoid oral hearings, by pass intricate procedure and waive vexatious rules of evidence. Hence the administrative courts can decide cases much faster.

  3. The ordinary courts of law are manned by people having a legal education however the administrative courts can be manned by experts so the adjudication on technical matters is far simpler.

  4. The functioning of the administrative tribunals is quite flexible. They are not bound to follow their own precedents or those of any other courts or tribunals. Hence the administrative courts can pursue the economic policies without being bogged down by the legal formalities.

  5. The administrative courts can use the sources of evidence other than those tendered before them. They can take notice of many things which the ordinary courts do not notice. They can hold enquiries, can travel for local inspection etc. They can function as investigative bodies. They are in a better position, thus, to understand the implications of the social legislation and provide justice to the citizens.

  6. They can do experimentation in the area of administrative adjudication. The experience gained in the trial of several cases may be helpful in devising more useful procedures by the tribunals.

  7. If the administrative tribunals would not have been there then the ordinary courts of law could not have been able to manage all the litigations emerging out of the new social legislations. Hence they have shared the load of regular courts of law substantially.

  8. Emergency powers may be granted to or withdrawn from the administrative authorities sometimes by notification or executive orders.

Disadvantages of Administrative Tribunals

Some of the disadvantages of administrative tribunals are:

  1. The cardinal principle of natural justice is that nobody should be a judge in a case in which he himself is involved. So the establishment of administrative tribunals violates the principle of natural justice as Government is a party in many cases before these tribunals and also appoints these tribunals. However by providing independent status to the tribunals and their members this problem can be solved.

  2. The members of these tribunals are not often judges or the persons having legal education. In such a case they may not be able to perform their judicial functions well. To solve this problem often judicial members are appointed as members. Also the members with the passage of time tend to acquire legal knowledge.

  3. There is a lack of codification of procedures of the administrative tribunals. Due to this there is no uniformity in their functioning. However uniformity may not be required as it will take away the flexibility of the tribunals. Some sort of systematic functioning is desirable.

  4. Law of Evidence is not binding on the administrative tribunals while it is so in case of ordinary courts of law. This results in recording of poor quality evidence in administrative tribunals. Sometimes hearsay evidence is recorded which may result in incorrect results.

  5. There are no public hearings. Very often the hearings are not open to press. The reports of the decided cases are often not published. The secret nature of their functioning is not helpful in winning the confidence of people.

  6. Right of appeal is quite limited. Sometimes it is nonexistent.

While establishing the administrative tribunals, a balance has to be achieved between the quick, cheap administrative justice on the one hand and the quality of justice & liberty of the individual on the other.

Continue Reading - Safeguards to Limit the Powers of Administrative Tribunals


Post a Comment