Irked by non-appointment of judicial members to the Armed Forces Tribunal leading to work there “almost coming to a standstill”, the AFT Bar Association has written to Chief Justice T S Thakur demanding immediate remedy. The association has also requested that it be brought under the Law Ministry instead of the Defence Ministry, which in most of the AFT litigations is the opposite party.
The AFT (Principal Bench) Bar Association will also observe a protest by wearing black ribbons on September 22, with their regional counterparts likely to join it. In the letter to Thakur, copy of which has been sent to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Rajiv Manglik, Secretary of the AFT (PB) Bar Association, said there were only five benches functional out of a total of 17 which had resulted in a lack of access to justice to military personnel, disabled soldiers and even widows of defence personnel.
“While it is claimed that there are not enough applicants for the posts, it is learnt that appointments already approved by the Selection Committee have not yet been notified,” the letter said. It said that the reason articulated by the central government to create AFT was “speedy and less expensive dispensation of justice”, but with the passing years, it emerges that perhaps the actual reason was simply to take out the jurisdiction of such matters from the inherently independent constitutional courts and bring them under a departmental tribunal which functions under the Ministry of Defence.
The biggest disappointment with the creation of AFT has come in the form of a lack of any effective remedy of judicial review over its orders thereby making it the first and the last court for litigants, it said. “Though an appeal in ‘points of law of general public importance’ or in matters which the Supreme Court considers so exceptional that the highest court of the land ought to hear them, was provided in the form of Section 31 of the Act, it was expected that all other issues would be challengeable before the high courts,” it said.