Sunday, June 15, 2014

90% reversal rate for the Armed Forces Tribunal

Further to yesterday's post, this article from the Times of India reports that the High Court has set aside decisions of the Armed Forces Tribunal about 90% of the time since the Delhi High Court decided in 2011 that AFT decisions were subject to review in the High Court as well as directly by the Supreme Court. The decision noted here yesterday was only one of 30 reversals made public on a single day last month. All were from the AFT's Chandigarh Bench. The article adds:
Major Navdeep Singh, founder President of AFT Bar Association and a high court lawyer, said the HC orders have come as a huge relief for retired military men. Otherwise, it was very difficult for them to approach the Supreme Court due to high cost of litigation. 
Chairman of All Indian Ex-servicemen Welfare Association, Advocate Bhimsen Sehgal said that AFT should be wound up immediately because the sole purpose of formation of military tribunals have been defeated, as the ex-servicemen are not getting relief due to attitude of adamant administrative members of the AFT who are retired senior defence officers.
"While in service, they fail to take care of the welfare of defence personnel and following their retirement and appointment as AFT members they can not be expected to be pro ex-servicemen," Sehgal added.
Giving reasons behind such a large dismissal of AFT orders by HC, former law officer of Army, Colonel (retd) S K Aggarwal said, "Members of the AFT, whether judicial or administrative, are at the mercy of the MOD. How can they pass order against the ministry. The HC, on the other side, decides a case purely on justice point of view". "AFT is like toothless tiger that cannot administer justice until or unless brought under the ministry of law and justice," Colonel Aggarwal added. 
Critics contrast the Indian judicial review arrangements with those in neighboring Pakistan, where such cases are heard by the autonomous Federal Tribunal. (Thanks to Navdeep Singh for the Times of India link.)

It does seem that the current Indian arrangements for judicial review of courts-martial and other military personnel decisions need work, notwithstanding the fact that it took literally decades to get this far after the Supreme Court suggested a need for legislation in the 1980s. The caseloads are enormous, delays extensive, and compliance by MOD grudging. Assigning the task to two-member benches composed of retired civilian judges and senior officers seems unlikely to foster public confidence in the process. In addition, the fact that litigants now have two separate routes to seek appellate review of AFT decisions makes little sense, and access to the Supreme Court is illusory if the cost is prohibitive for affected former service personnel. Perhaps the new Indian government will have all of this high on its agenda, since the present state of affairs seems unsustainable.

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