Saturday, August 08, 2009 15:25 IST
The President Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil inaugurated the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) here today. Calling it an important milestone in the history of the Armed Forces, the President, who is also the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, hoped that the setting up of the Tribunal will enhance the confidence and trust among the large number of Services personnel in the country’s justice dispensation system in relation to their service matters. It has been a longstanding demand of the men in uniform to have the option for a review of decisions of the Court Martial.
Cautioning that the delay in dispensation of justice defeats the very purpose of delivery of justice, the President asked the Tribunal to be particularly careful in avoiding the build up of backlogs. “There should be predictability in court hearings and adjournments granted only in very exceptional circumstances,” she added.
Set up by an Act of Parliament in December, 2007, the AFT will have its Principal Bench in New Delhi and eight regional benches spread across the country. The Tribunal will have 15 courts in all, - three each in New Delhi, Chandigarh and Lucknow and one each in Jaipur, Mumbai, Kolkata, Guwahati, Chennai and Kochi. The Principal bench in New Delhi will be functional from Monday, August 10.
Terming the landmark event as a ‘magna carta’ in Indian military history, the Minister for Law and Justice, Shri M. Veerappa Moily said that the Tribunal would act as an outlet for redressal of grievances of Armed Forces personnel. The Tribunal is an endeavour in “the search for truth and justice” after the convergence of various pillars of democracy, Shri Moily said. He hoped that the Tribunal would not get bogged down in “the juggernaut of bureaucracy.” Justice Ashok Kumar Mathur, who took over as the founder Chairperson of the Tribunal on Sep.1, 2008, said the arrears of pending cases in civilian courts is a matter of concern. He hoped that the Tribunal would reduce burden on the regular courts. At present nearly 10,000 such cases are pending before various courts across the country, most of them with the high courts.
The AFT will provide a judicial forum for redressal of grievances of about a 1.3 million strong armed forces personnel and another 1.2 million Ex-Servicemen. Having powers of a criminal court, the Tribunal can grant bail to men held in military custody and also hear appeals against sentences handed down by the court-martial. The decisions of the AFT can be challenged only in the Supreme Court.
The Tribunal will provide better justice delivery system to the Services personnel, particularly those living in remote and inaccessible areas, the Chief Justice of India Mr. Justice KG Balakrishnan said. Pointing out that the Army, Navy and the Air Force Acts have some archaic and “authoritative” provisions of the colonial legacy, he observed that there was a general perception that sitting officers of the Court Martial are not inclined to impartial and fair justice. The Tribunal’s success parameters would be to ensure fairness, speedy justice and its enforcement, he added.
The Defence Minister Shri AK Antony said that the tribunal fills a void that existed in the military justice dispensation. It would fulfill the observations made by the Supreme Court long back in 1982 and the subsequent recommendations of the Law Commission that “the Services personnel must have at least one judicial review” of verdicts handed down by the Court Martial.
The Tribunal will have a Chairperson who has been or is a judge of the Supreme Court or Chief Justice of a high court. Besides, each court consists of a judicial member and an administrative member. Justice RV Ravindran, a sitting Supreme Court judge who is the Chairperson of the Selection Committee of the Armed Forces Tribunal, said that the decision making on grievances related to armed forces personnel demands specialized knowledge of Services protocol besides upholding the tenets of natural justice.
Delivering the closing address, the Minister of State for Defence Dr MM Pallam Raju said that this day heralds a new era in the administration of justice for the armed forces personnel.
President Inaugurates Armed Forces Tribunal
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