SC restores HC jurisdiction over AFT orders

SC restores HC jurisdiction over AFT orders

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, January 11

In a major relief to defence litigants, the Supreme Court has reinstated the right to challenge verdicts of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) in the high courts. The apex court ruled in 2015 that high courts must not exercise writ jurisdiction over AFT orders since the remedy of a direct appeal to the SC was provided in the AFT Act.

Relief For Armed Forces Personnel

  • In 2015, SC ruled that HCs mustn’t exercise writ jurisdiction over AFT orders as AFT Act allowed a direct appeal in SC
  • The decision virtually rendered litigants remediless since the Act allowed appeal in the SC only in limited cases
  • This had practically converted the AFT into the first and last court for serving and retired armed forces personnel

Referring to an order passed earlier by a seven-judge Bench, the SC observed in the case of Balkrishna Ram vs Union of India that the writ jurisdiction of high courts over tribunals cannot even be taken away by a legislative or constitutional amendment and the 2015 judgment by a Bench of two judges cannot overrule the law already laid down.

The SC has also held that the remedy of a direct appeal from the AFT to the SC would be “extremely difficult and beyond the monetary reach of an ordinary litigant”.

The 2015 decision had virtually rendered litigants remediless since as per the AFT Act an appeal to the SC lies only in very limited cases where “a point of law of general public importance” is involved.

Consequently, the orders had practically converted the AFT into the first and last court for serving and retired armed forces personnel, whereas civilian employees and pensioners could challenge verdicts of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) in the HC and then in SC.

It also meant litigants had to defend appeals filed by the Centre against them in the SC, which made justice unaffordable and inaccessible whereas similar litigation filed against civilian employees was fought in the HC.

In a landmark judgment in Rojer Mathew’s case, with which another case specifically related to the AFT titled ‘Navdeep Singh vs Union of India’ was tagged, a Constitution Bench of the SC in November last year held that Article 226 of the Constitution does not restrict writ jurisdiction of high courts over the AFT, observing the same can “neither be tampered with nor diluted. Instead, it has to be zealously-protected and cannot be circumscribed by provisions of any enactment”.

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