In a strong reminder to the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) to restrain itself while commenting on constitutional court decisions, the Supreme Court has set aside the observations of the Lucknow Bench of the tribunal wherein it had observed that a single bench decision of the High Court setting aside an interim order of the AFT was not binding on it. The AFT, while hearing the case of a Lieutenant Colonel by way of an interim order, had ordered the constitution of a Committee by the Chief of Army Staff to look into the allegations made by the officer regarding unsavoury behaviour with his wife by a high ranking army officer.
The order of the AFT was challenged by the Union of India in the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court which set aside the AFT’s directions on grounds of being beyond the scope of the petition filed by the officer. It also ruled that the tribunal could only have gone into the validity of the Annual Confidential Reports (ACR) challenged by the petitioner and that the tribunal did not possess powers of the Supreme Court or the High Court under writ jurisdiction.
However, despite the quashing of its order, the AFT, while grating the main relief of setting aside of the ACR to the petitioner, reiterated its directions of formation of a committee and recorded that the High Court’s judgement was ‘per incuriam’ and lacked ‘binding effect’.
The order of the tribunal was then challenged by the Union of India in the Supreme Court wherein it was averred by the Central Government that “the Armed Forces Tribunal in the impugned judgment has exceeded its jurisdiction by expressing opinion on the High Court judgment which was relevant in the issue and such comments are unwarranted.”
While upholding the setting aside of the officer’s ACR, the Supreme Court has agreed with the Government’s contention and has set aside the observations and opinion expressed by the AFT on the High Court’s directions. The Supreme Court has further recorded “we have no hesitation to say that the Tribunal will be well advised to maintain restraint while expressing its opinion on those issues.”
The Supreme Court has, in the past, reiterated that High Courts being constitutional courts shall retain the superiority and powers under Article 226 over tribunals which are merely creations of the statute and which cannot substitute Constitutional Courts.