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Way paved for Armed Forces Tribunal
Government Notifies Act

Vijay Mohan
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, January 8
The Central government has notified the Armed Forces Tribunal Act, 2007, paving the way for setting up a tribunal to resolve service matters pertaining to military personnel from all three services.

The Bill, passed by the Rajya Sabha on December 3, 2007, received the assent of the President on December 25, and thereafter a notification was issued about a week ago. There is already a cell functioning at the Army Headquarters to work out the modalities of setting up the tribunal. Though no schedule has been laid out, sources in the Army Headquarters said the tribunal could be functional within a few months. @@The amended Bill as passed by the Rajya Sabha states that it would provide for the adjudication or trial by the Armed Forces Tribunal of disputes and complaints with respect to commission, appointments, enrolment and conditions of service in respect to persons covered under the Army, Navy and Air Force Acts. It would also provide for appeals arising out of orders, findings or sentences of court-martial held under the said Acts and matters connected therewith.@@Under the Act, the tribunalís principal Bench would be located in New Delhi, with branches at other places as required. According to a copy of the amended Bill available with The Tribune, the tribunal will have the powers of a high court and will consist of judicial and administrative members, the number of which would be fixed depending upon the requirement.@@Only a former judge of the Supreme Court or a former Chief Justice of a High Court can be its chairperson and will hold office for a four-year term. While judicial members will be retired high court judges, the administrative members will be drawn from the forces, who have served as a Judge Advocate General for at least a year and are not below the rank of a Major General or equivalent.@@Once the tribunal is constituted, all pending trials before the civil courts, including the high courts covered under the Army, Navy and Air Force Acts, would stand transferred before the tribunal. Appeals against the verdicts of court-martial can thereafter be made only before the tribunal. @@As far as court-martial is concerned, the tribunal shall allow an appeal and pass appropriate orders against conviction, where the findings of a court-martial are legally not sustainable, involves wrong decision on a question of law, involves material irregularity in the course of the trial resulting in miscarriage of justice or if the sentence is excessive.@@The tribunal would have the authority to summon witnesses, order production of documents and exhibition of evidence, obtain reports from court-martial, appoint expert witnesses and order reference of any question for inquiry. It will have the power to quash court-martial findings, remit part or whole of the sentence, enhance punishments, release appellant on parole with or without conditions or pass any other appropriate order. It will also have the powers of contempt.@@The tribunal will not be bound by the procedure laid down in the Code of Civil Procedure, but will be guided by principles of natural justice and subject to provisions laid down in the Armed Forces Tribunal Act. Every rule made under the Act would have to be placed before each House of the Parliament. Any appeal against the tribunalís orders would be made to the Supreme Court.

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